Archives agency warns of drawbacks to electronic records
By United Methodist News Service Saving
official church records is not always as simple as it may appear,
according to the United Methodist agency charged with preserving the
denomination's historical documents.
The churchwide Commission on
Archives and History, with offices in Madison, N.J., is particularly
concerned that some annual (regional) conferences are considering
publishing their annual journals electronically as a cost-cutting
"Our basic suggestion is that regardless of the
publication process, the conference should still create a limited number
of paper copies of the conference journal on acid-free paper,"
according to a March 27 letter to all conference secretaries.
the continued rapid change of technology there is no guarantee that an
electronic journal will be readable in five to 10 years," the agency
Data stored 15 years ago on 5.25-inch and 3.5-inch floppy
disks has been lost if it has not been transferred to more recent
formats, the letter noted.
"In addition to the fact that the
physical storage medium will change over time, there is also the problem
of being able to read a file for the long term," a commission archivist
wrote. "Already, earlier versions of Word documents cannot be read by
the current Word program."
A conference journal needs to be
accessed for at least 50 years in dealing with personnel issues, such as
pastors' pensions, said L. Dale Patterson, archivist and records
administrator at the commission.
"The electronic solution is to
migrate files whenever the technology changes," he said. "This is often
treated as a trivial exercise, but it is not. It costs time and money to
migrate a file from one medium or one program to another." The time
when the tools for accomplishing this are available is usually limited,
and the loss of data or formatting is a real risk.
pointed out that the United Methodist Church's Book of Discipline
requires that two copies of the conference journal be sent to the
denomination's Commission on Archives and History and two copies to the
conference archives. At the very least, these should be paper copies, he
said. He urged that additional paper copies be given to the bishop,
district superintendents and the conference office.
Questions can be directed to Patterson at firstname.lastname@example.org or (973) 408-3195.
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