The Archivist’s Nook: DELETED – Email Archiving, or Offices in the Age of Spam

“Nonessential correspondence? DELETED.”)
  Nonessential correspondence?

The following post was authored by Digital Archivist Paul Kelly.

It’s been awhile! This week, we’re going to talk about what has traditionally been an elephant in the digital archives room. That’s right – I’m talking about email.

First of all, consider offices of the past. Maybe you have filing cabinets and hanging folders; perhaps you have interoffice mail and external correspondence. I know I’m stating the obvious, but the common element here is paper, and as I mentioned in a previous blog, we’re pretty good at dealing with that. But let’s be frank. Do you have a work email account? Do you use it for official business? Do you see where I’m going with this? In the past, would that business have been conducted via paper correspondence? If so, what are you currently doing with those emails? Printing them? Nothing at all? What should we be doing? This stuff is important – you’d think we’d be doing something­.

“Our lord and savior”
           Our lord and savior

These are the issues that we’ve been dealing with at CUA, and we’re clearly not alone. But pretending that a problem doesn’t exist will not make it go away, so we’re finally gearing up to try something out. Building on the work of our former archivists, who created records management guidelines for campus email accounts, we’re revising and applying those principles to a pilot project centered around a tool named ePADD.

ePADD, developed by Stanford University Libraries, allows you to not only create, appraise, and process email archives, but also make them discoverable, all while maintaining the structure and functionality of a live account (minus composition and sending functions). By implementing RM guidelines, such as retention/deposit schedules, deletion of non-essential messages and spam, and sticking to robust folder structures, suddenly email archiving becomes far less daunting. ePADD allows you to either select specific folders for ingest or to capture an account wholesale, and facilitates browsing by correspondent, organization, location or attachment. In addition to this, it allows full-text searching of the archive, applies LC subject headings to known-entities, and even allows the archivist to create their own subjects to facilitate cataloging and finding aid creation. And, just like BitCurator, it can redact sensitive information such as phone numbers and other personal information.

“Talkin’ ‘Bout Money”
    An uncommon sight

“But how can I try this myself?” I hear you ask. We’re always talking about money (or lack thereof) in libraries, and budgets are a serious concern. Luckily, though, ePADD is free. Download it, and play around with your personal email; if it uses IMAP (like Google or Windows Mail), you need only enter your username and password to get started. If you’re feeling confident, then attempt to do the same with an imported .MBOX file (a common email archive file format – the ImportExportTools add-on for Thunderbird, or standalone program Emailchemy can help you create one). Use what you learn from your experiments to make the case for email archiving at your institution; convince your coworkers and bosses that emails are records, and advocate for electronic records management best practices organization-wide. As always, have fun experimenting, and thanks for reading, folks.

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