català | castellano | english home   sitemap   legal notice   credits   contacte  
home home

Renata Arovelius, Swedish University for Agricultural Sciences , Uppsala, Sweden

"To secure scientific records for the future. A quality issue for the university. Initiatives for handling and preservation of records of science at the Swedish University for Agricultural Sciences (SLU)"

In January 2003 SLU received a letter from a journalist requiring access to records created in connection to a dissertation from 1989 with the title ‘Volume increment on experimental plots managed with single-tree selection’.

The dissertation was presented at SLU, at the Department of Silviculture.

 The inquiry was made on numbers and tables plotted in some diagrams in the dissertation. The journalist has been in contact with the author and got the answer that either the author has those data available or the data are kept in archives. At the same time, it is necessary to add, that this inquiry was a result of an earlier conflict between a previous professor of the Department and the department itself. Questioning the results of the named dissertation, the professor demanded access to the records already in 1998.

The answer from the author of the dissertation about the records status did not satisfy the journalist. So, the journalist submitted a formal application to the university demanding access to required data according to existing rules. To understand this procedure it is necessary to give a background to the Principle of Public Access to  Official Documents, the Principle which serve as guidance for all handling of records by Swedish authorities.

According to this Principle Swedish citizens, but also foreign nationals, shall have free access to official documents of public authorities (The Freedom of the Press Act, SFS 1949:105, section 2 (changed 2002:1049)).  And furthermore, the media (press, radio and television) have access to files and records of an authority. The Principle of Public Access is quite an old one; it was formulated for the first time in the 1766 Freedom of the Press Act and[12 831] consequently applied in Sweden, with small exceptions, for over 200 years. The Principle of Public Access is supposed to make the authorities more careful and reduce the risk for arbitrary action. It also makes the administration more efficient, because the authorities know they are conducted under the control and observation of the public.

It also gives the possibility to choose information you wish to obtain, independently of the information services of the authority.

The Freedom of the Press Act defines also the term ‘document’ and ‘official document’. According to this definition a document may be any representation in writing or picture, e.g. a map, a letter, a draft, and any record which can be read, listen to, or otherwise comprehended only by means of technical aids, e.g. video-tape, e-mail, data-register, data-base or microfilm.

A document will be official if it is in the keeping of a public authority, has been received or has been drawn up by an authority. It means that both: documents forwarded from and submitted to an institution are considered official.

Almost all Swedish universities are public authorities. As a consequence, records of science created during the search process at Swedish universities are subject to implementation of the Principle of Public Access to Official Documents. And further more, the Principle is valid for scientific material during the research process

itself, which means, even before a research project is finalized and the results published.

The general rule is thus the public access to official documents. However the access may be [12 832]restricted to protect specific interests. But restrictions are always an exception to the general rule as the general rule is  public access and secrecy is only an exception. All exceptions from public access are specified in a special act,  which is the1980 Secrecy Act. And restrictions are valid only if necessary, having regard to following interests:

- the security of the state or its relations with other states or international organizations (security reasons)

- to prevent or suppress crime (public safety)

- to protect the personal or economic circumstances of the individual (protection of individuals and privacy)

- business and financial secrets.

At the same time the applicant has always the right, guaranteed by the Freedom of the Press Act, to appeal against a decision by an authority not to give access to an official document.

According to the Principle of Public Access we can therefore divide all documents into official (so, kept by an authority, received or drawn up), which can be public or secret as mentioned above, and of course not official (a lot of documents are just ‘working’ documents, e.g. drafts, suggestions for a decision, first version of a research report etc.)

So, let’s turn now to the inquiry on numbers and tables plotted in some diagrams of the dissertation from 1989.
Which documents is the university bound in law to give access to and, as a result of existing rules, to have kept in the archives, or in other words to preserve?

Usually we divide records of science in four main groups:[12 833]

administrative records (e.g. projects plans and descriptions, means application, contracts, correspondence with
sponsors) raw data or primary records, so all information used for scientific processing (e.g. surveys, laboratory or field notebooks, radiographs, even increment cores or soul samples) analyzed data (‘working’ data as e.g. report draft, excerpts, calculations or electronic records as a part of data processing) all material reporting on the results (i.e. all kinds of reports, final reports, publications and articles)

Records of science can be secret too, but only if there is legal authority for classifying as secret. According to the Secrecy Act a good ground for keeping scientific records secret, even results or methods used, may be the commercial value, ‘commissioned’ research or security reasons.

Numbers and tables the journalist inquired on was a part of data processing and what we describe as analyzed data, so ‘working’ data, and according to the definition of ‘official document’ in the Freedom of the Press Act not official. There is, in such case, no obligation for the university to give access to ‘working’ documents and to  keep them in archives. This was the answer and explanation the journalist got.

However the legal status of the records is, when considering the archival perspective, just one side of the problem. The other is the value of the records for further research and the future. As the records of science created during different research projects at the university, no matter how projects have been founded, and also during the university’s research activity carried on continuously, also are subject to the Principle of Public Access, the rules for registration and archiving according to the Archival Law, have to be applied to the records of science. And the rules for archiving include the rules for disposal and guidelines for decision-making process of appraisal.

After a long time of “interregnum” for a policy in this field, the National Archives of Sweden had decreed 1999 on disposal of scientific material (RA-FS 1999:1).  The decision was a result of a previous analysis from 1997 on the  legal status of scientific material at the universities in the light of the Principle of public Access. The  disposal decision has been valid since January 2000 and gives terms of reference for the appraisal process.[12 834]

The structure and organization of records and archives management at SLU is decentralized, which means that each department (we are more than 70 at this time) has own responsibility for registration of official documents and for archiving (archives keeping). Each department has thus to implement the disposal decision made by the National Archives. The decision makes clear, that it is the university that put the disposal rules into practice and finalizes the cancellation on the terms approved. At the same time it makes also clear that no cancellation should be effected before the evaluation of the material is done.  In the evaluation process, which involves the critical keep/destroy decisions, a due attention always must be paid to following aspects:

- records value for the actual research area, but also for other disciplines

- significance for history of science and culture, for individual history and also if particular scientific records are of great  interest to the public.

Preservation of records of science must thus always satisfy three main reasons of preservation:

- administration and legal needs, which here includes verifying of research results

- scientific needs (access to primary data from previous projects)

- historical needs

The records of science which contain data about the aim of the project, project description and methods used, and the results must always be kept for ever and are always excluded from cancellation. At the same time, it is important to add, that according to the Swedish Archival Law, each transferring of data or conversion to other carrier which causes loss of information, loss of the possibility to compile the information, loss of search possibilities or of the authenticity, is cancellation. And the change in media, i.e. transfer of data from a database to paper or microfilm, always means cancellation. As we all are living in the world of rapid changes in technology, and the hybrid environment of paper and electronic records is no exception for records of science, we have to consider conversion and media change as early as possible, which means already at the creation stage as an early step in the evaluation process.

The rules on disposal of scientific material and rules on status of records of science in regard on the Principle of Public Access to Official Documents are relatively new and demand quite a good portion of work for putting them into practise. Information meetings for chief of the departments and researchers have become accordingly a natural way of communicating the issue of handling and preservation of records of science. Also special courses for postgraduate students and holders[12 835] of scholarship from abroad are now a well-established instrument for dissemination of knowledge about existing rules to the research community. Those 1- credit-courses for postgraduate students are organized by the SLU’s library and give a general introduction to information retrieval. Bibliographic databases on the Web, scientific electronic publishing, information retrieval strategies and copyright legislation are parts of the course content. The archival function’s co-operation on this course implies participation with the seminar/lecture on preservation and handling of scientific material.  The archival function is developing by this participation a new approach in the archival work in aim to instil in records creators and ‘young’ researchers best archival practises as early as possible. The intention is to implant archival aspects and aspects of access to public records as a natural practise in handling of records of science in the beginning of the research process. - For this term SLU will give four courses of that kind.

Establishing of best practises in handling of records of science is an important and integrated part in records management at the university. However, it means not only records management but also archives management, as we apply in Sweden archives management on records management.

The responsibility for records/archives management at SLU is decentralized, as already mentioned. Each department
is responsible to draw up a systematic inventory which also includes scientific material and to keep records in a proper repository. The inventory is always connected to the records creator, which means to the department, as the research projects are often united with scientist or scientific group at a particular department, and as we follow the principle of provenance.

The proliferation of electronic records, many longitudinal projects with 20 – 30 years space of time and joint  project with participation of different departments or even universities make however this system vulnerable and put quite new demands on archives management. Long term preservation of electronic records in general and records of science in particular is one of the biggest problems for the university archives right now, especially as a solution for the records of science is very urgent in spite of all needs for access to primary data created in the 70-ties and 80-ties. Digital preservation is thus after the evaluation process next task which must be taken care off as soon as possible and which has to build on co-operation with records generators. This task is also a joint problem for the whole university.  It includes questions of appropriate funding and continuity, two factors which never can be guaranteed by a department, a unit which is a subject to frequent changes in structure and organization.

As a solution and a plan for handling of digital information have been in focus during the last couple of years, there are some initiatives undertaken. The most promising is a project appointed by the Faculty Board at the Faculty of Forestry at SLU. The project steering group consists of members of the faculty administration and ICT department, scientists from different departments of the Faculty of Forestry and university archivist.

In the directives for the project following main tasks were specified:

- To take inventory of current needs of access to previously collected digital primary material and to take a measure of extent of material which has to be kept for the long term. It includes suggestion for data selection and choices for priority

- To give suggestion for appropriate methods and media for long term preservation and future access.

Solutions for particular situations when a scientist involved in a longitudinal project quits or a department is wound up are included in this task.

- To give suggestion for access to primary data within a correct scope and creation, and access to metadata.

- To give suggestion for organization of long term preservation at the university and funding for it

- To suggest guidelines for best practise to all departments

The appointed project group completed a final report in January 2003 (Digitalt bevarande av forskningsmaterial, Skogsvetenskapliga fakulteten, SLU, 13 januari 2003).  The report gives suggestion to action for preservation in a critical situation and to strategic actions for long term preservation. The project group has agreed on the fact that preservation of scientific material can’t be separated from the question: who at the university has the responsibility for long term preservation. The department is, for different reasons, not any longer a stable basis for long term preservation of primary data. Joint projects, where different counterparts work together, and also longitudinal field research attached to a particular department, with a function of a kind of  ‘research hotel’ and with a widespread international co-operation, are more and more common. As the university structure is the subject to frequent organizational changes, it should be thus the project itself who is the records creator and not the department, as it is today. The project leader should be responsible for transferring of records to the central archives.

The project group has recommended a new praxis, a responsibility agreement for documentation and preservation between different parts in a project as a condition for co-operation when scientists from other universities or organizations are involved. In a similar way an agreement should be reached when different departments are working together. The responsibility for documentation and preservation must be evident from the beginning.

The project group has also concluded that a flexible solution is to be preferred when putting the responsibility for long term preservation on the faculty or the central level.

At the same time it is also clear that it is still the individual scientist or scientific group that is responsible to the chief of the department for evaluation and disposal according to archival rules. Chief of the department makes the decision on cancellation and is responsible for systematic transferring of records to the central archives (university archives). Every decision on disposal of the material must be well documented and reason for cancellation always given. The university archivist shall always be contacted before the disposal is carried out.

Another problem the project group has been dealing with in the report is the organization for the long term preservation, especially when looking at the digital preservation. The group discussed three different models and has recommended the following alternative:

In this model Archives, Library and ICT-department contribute with specific skills and co-operate in form of a joint unit, the Preservation Division. The mission of the division is strategic planning for the long term preservation, maintenance of electronic records and work with accessibility. Representatives of each faculty participate in the activity of the Preservation Division and look after particular interests. Liability for the archives remains unchanged and belongs to the university archives. The Library and ICT-department are responsible for making scientific material accessible.

The aim of the suggested organization is to integrate all parts in the documentation of research process, - from on-line publications into stored archival material -, using personnel and space resources in more efficient way.

Another task for the project group, besides the organizational issues, was to present suggestions for technical solutions. Creating of all data in such way that it is possible to read it, to understand and to transfer it to other media during the whole time of the preservation period, must always be basis and starting point for long term preservation of all kinds of records but it is especially important for digital material. Records format is thus the crucial problem for all planning for future digital preservation.

Following the directives for the project the project group looked at all material which has to be preserved and divided it into three main groups: 1) electronic records, text or numerical material, mostly different databases 2) traditional “paper records”, as project plans, descriptions, field notebooks, maps and photographs 3) different kind of samples as increment cores, soul or plant samples.

As the preservation of records in group 1 has the highest priority, I will only touch on the technical solutions for electronic records.

The project group recommends storage and maintenance of all digital material in ASCII format [12 837]according to the international standard ISO 8859-1 Latin 1, awaiting a more frequent use of Unicode. Each file should have a ‘header’, which means it must be labelled with metadata containing information on date, place, and experiment identity, creator but also context and file structure. All types of metadata: descriptive (content, context), structural and administrative must be created using preferably XML- tagging. ASCII format should thus be the first choice for storage of numerical and text files; and for numerical files in particular, preferably ASCII CSV, comma -separated variables.

Electronic records of science preserved in the recommended format have then to be made accessible as soon as possible in an on-line metadata base on a special website on the university’s Web.

Looking at the different carriers for storage, the project group has recommended using of CD- ROM-discs according to the technical directions from National Archives. Two archival masters (CDs from different generations) should
always be delivered to the Preservation Division, two others remain at the particular department or by the archives
creator. Those discs can’t be out on loan; for this purpose utility discs must be created instead.

Storage on CD will then be carried out in connection to concrete events: when the material has been published, when a project is finalized, when changes (personnel or structural) in project works have occurred, when a department has been wound up. A systematic transferring of data to CD, at least once a year, and temporary storage in the archives of the department should also together with the documentation become a natural routine for the project.

The Preservation Division will also have the overall responsibility for migration and conversion. Strategy for long term preservation of digital material demands a detailed plan for migration and appropriate routines for documentation. The frequency for migration/transfer rates must be adapted to each case in regard on media longevity, thus physical lasting of the carrier and technical lasting of the information. The plan for migration must also be a part of the university policy in relation to responsibility for digital preservation, issues about security and secrecy, accessibility, authenticity and control of digital information.

And again, as the generating of digital information is very rapid, the co-operation with records creators is very essential. Both: the actual project at the Faculty of Forestry, information meetings with scientists and courses for postgraduate students aim to establish such co-operation as early as possible during the research process, which means at an early stage when producing the information.

SLU´s initiatives for handling and preservation of records of science are quite offensive but not isolated in the national perspective. There is a lot of work put on the preservation issue in connection to the new rules for appraisal valid from 2000, as mentioned above, and in connection to rules regarding statement on legal status of records of science according to the Freedom of the Press Act and public access. The most interesting national initiative, which should be mentioned in this context, is a pre-study on joint digital archives, accomplished by a project group appointed [12 838]by administrative chiefs from all Swedish universities and colleges in October 2002.

The appointed group reported results of the study in February 2003 (Gemensamt elektroniskt arkiv för universitet och högskolor – en förstudie, 2003-02-15).

The group made the point that it is too early yet to decide how national digital archives for universities and colleges should be organized. In general, two options may be tangible for future solution: a joint digital archive taking care of storage and maintenance, placed at one of the universities or a joint virtual archive building on the principle that all universities/colleges have implemented same standards and recommendations.

The pre-study has also narrowed down the problem and strategies for long term preservation of electronic records.
There are two sides of the problem: the logical and the technical one.
The logical part concerns general archival problems: classifying and metadata. The recommended solution is, according to the project group, evident. One should follow the international standards, which means at present OAIS (Open Archival Information System) and XML (Extensible Mark-up Language). However those standards are not yet completely established and will change with the time going by.

The technical part concerns mainly general IT-problems: the compatibility and obsolescence of the technology and deterioration of storage media. This problem has no self-evident technical solution. However there are four main ways, possible to follow in meeting the technical challenges:

- storage in natives formats (preserving of the technique used)

- emulation

- migration

- conversion to analogue media

As it is not possible to guarantee access to digital material using only one method, the appointed project group has recommended migration for short term preservation, which means preservation for 5-10 years. For digital material which has to be preserved 10 years or more, emulation or conversion to analogue media should be considered. However, despite the method used, it is important to implement metadata standards for archives keeping/archiving.

The report on joint digital university archive gives also concrete suggestions for further work towards it: creating of an observer group covering standards, technical and organizational solutions; and establishing of two separate projects: one for electronic records of science and one for electronic administrative records.

SLU and its archival function are appointed part in the observer group and will furthermore contribute with the results from the project on digital scientific material from the Faculty of Forestry.

And in conclusion: The main activity of the university is research and education. Background to each publication containing research results as: dissertation, report or article, is constituted of different kinds of raw  data/primary material. Publishing of results makes the results accessible and preservation of primary material makes the verifying of results possible. The primary material has thus the central role for other scientists and the public, and for public control. Value for future research and for the history must be also considered and evaluated.  It should be thus self evident that results and method used must be documented, accessible and possible to verify. This makes the research reliable. To guarantee the reliability and access in the future, we need appropriate archival strategy with rules on handling and preservation as an integrated part of the research activity. It is a joint problem for the entire university and a link in work with security of quality in the university activity.