Recognizing Excellence in Records & Information Management
Recognizing Excellence in Records & Information Management
I wanted to take this opportunity to say something about the Emmett Leahy Award.
The award, given by an international committee of past awardees, recognizes an individual whose outstanding contributions and accomplishments have had a major impact on records and information management practices. It was established in 1967 to honor the spirit of innovation, dedication, and excellence in records and information management of Emmett Joseph Leahy, a pioneer of what was called ‘modern records management’ in the 1950s and 60s.
My dear friend Charles Dollar wrote the entry for Leahy in the Encyclopedia of Archival Writers 1515-2015. In it he records that Leahy was born on 24th December, 1910 in Washington DC, and died suddenly in 1964 aged only 53.
He notes that Leahy gained his undergraduate degree in 1932 and became an archivist at the US National Archives in 1935, where he was assigned to work as a ‘Special Examiner’ “whose task was to identify records without permanent value or historical interest that could be disposed of after approval by Congress.” Leahy and his colleagues soon recognized that the lack of any systematic management of federal records made it very difficult to distinguish between records of temporary value and those of permanent archival value. His strategy to address this was to establish and chair a committee on the reduction of records, which the Society of American Archivists approved. After analysing publications on European archives’ practices, and a six month tour of archives around the world to learn about programs to reduce the volume of public records being created, his seminal article ‘Reduction of Public Records’ was published in the American Archivist.
In 1941 Leahy became the Director of Records Administration for the Department of Navy, where he used microfilm to reduce the volume of paper records. This led him to join Remington Rand as a consultant and National Sales Manager for Microfilm in 1945 before leaving two years later to establish the National Records Management Council to promote and improve records management. In 1948 his recognition as a records management expert resulted in him being invited to join the Hoover Commission on the Reorganization of the Executive Branch of Government and to head a task force on the reduction of records. A significant outcome of this task force was the enactment of the Federal Records Act of 1950 which, for the first time, established a comprehensive records management program for the US federal government.
By 1953 Leahy had set up his own records management consultancy, Leahy and Company, and a very successful records storage company. I remember in the early 1990s, when I was working in the private sector, my US colleagues short-listed Pierce-Leahy (a merger of Pierce Corporation and the Leahy company) for offsite records storage. This subsequently became part of Iron Mountain.
When I first read Charles Dollar’s encyclopedia entry on Emmet Leahy what stood out for me was his innovative thinking and strategic approach to the management of records, and hence archives, by promoting good records administration early in their life. This whole life approach may seem rather obvious now but not at the time - it is something I particularly admire in Leahy. And, fittingly for today, Charles notes that whilst “Leahy viewed records management through the lens of physical paper records … he would have adapted to new information technologies and been on the cutting edge of information management.” There can be no doubt about the significance of his impact on the records and information management profession in less than 30 years of working life – impact that has continued.
Three years after Leahy’s death, Rod Exelbert, editor of the newly formed Information Management Magazine, decided that he would use the magazine as a venue for the creation of the Emmett Leahy Award for Outstanding Contributions to the Records and Information Management Profession, in honor of Leahy. The first Award was presented in 1967 to Edward Rosse of the US Social Security Administration. It has been presented annually ever since, with only one break in continuity in the 1980s. Dr Katre is its first Indian sub-continent recipient.
I hope this abbreviated account of Emmett Joseph Leahy illustrates the significance of the award, which is acknowledged internationally in the profession, and the honor that each recipient feels when being presented with it.
Dinesh Katre has achieved many things in his career but I can only speak to the few that I know about, and in particular those that relate to digital preservation– but those things are impressive enough for him to be awarded the Emmett Leahy Award against very stiff competition.
I was lucky enough to meet Dinesh in 2009. He had organised the Indo-US Workshop on International Trends in Digital Preservation in March 2009. I was there. I had been invited by Dinesh, although I was neither from the USA nor from India, because he recognised the importance of OAIS, the Reference Model for an Open Archival Information System on which I had worked. Over time I became aware of the depth of Dinesh’s understanding of that standard.
That workshop was, of course, a great experience for all of us who attended. But what I was particularly impressed by was that Dinesh has led a national study which produced the National Report on the Digital Preservation Requirements of India. This covered many areas of India’s important digital information, including Government Records, Banking and Insurance Records, Cultural Heritage, Audio, Video and Films, Scientific Data, Health Records, Educational data, Preservation Audit and Certification.
Even now I find this list staggering, especially considering the size and population of India. I and my colleagues around the world would have dearly loved to have had the opportunity – indeed to have been sufficiently persuasive to get that opportunity - to have looked in depth at all these areas in our own countries.
This study led to the setting up of the Centre of Excellence for Digital Preservation, within C-DAC.
Over many years I have been impressed by his deep understanding of the fundamental concepts of digital preservation and the application of these concepts in a consistent way.
Dinesh led many studies looking at the specific challenges of many areas. To address several of these challenges he led the creation of specific standards which have become widely adopted.
However, I know that his has not been an easy journey. As we see all over the world, it is difficult to obtain resources for digital preservation, because there is so much competition for those scarce resources. This is true in Europe and the USA, and perhaps even more so in India. Yet, as Dinesh knows, there is a great deal of value in digitally encoded information which makes preserving it worthwhile.
The case for digital preservation must be made, time and again, in every domain. People must be educated, and tools and infrastructure must be put in place.
Dinesh has been doing all these, doing them at the scale required by India, and doing them exceptionally well.
For example, Dinesh has led a large software team to create the world-leading software DIGITĀLAYA, which is an e-Library and Archival System for digital preservation.
Dinesh and I have met several times over the years in Europe. On one occasion Dinesh gave an example of his work about, I believe converting land registration papers to digital form. Challenges include the scale and importance of the problem, and the need to ensure that the authenticity of the digital objects is beyond dispute, because of their importance to the lives of so many people. What he showed was remarkable in its completeness and its attention to detail, both technically and in terms of being practical.
Over the years my admiration of Dinesh’s achievements has grown, and I am incredibly pleased that his work has now been internationally recognised by the Emmett Leahy Award Committee.
Warm greetings to all the dignitaries at C-DAC and those joining virtually! My sincere thanks to Dr Julie McLeod, the Chair of Emmett Leahy Award Committee (ELAC), Jason Baron (the former Chair), Dr. David Giaretta, and all the honourable committee members for finding me worthy of this recognition. The global pandemic has made this virtual award presentation very unique. Also, receiving such a prestigious honour in the presence of my colleagues and associates in India makes it very special for me.
I feel extremely proud to be a part of the glorious tradition of Emmett Leahy Awards that began in 1967, two years before I was born! Emmett Leahy continues to inspire us in the 21st century as we explore how to adopt his principles for managing the enlarging universe of big data. He was indeed a visionary, who not only foresaw the role of technology in records and information management but also emphasized the need to interpret recorded experience for value creation.
Let me briefly share my exciting journey with all of you. For the last 27 years, I have been involved in developing technology solutions in the field of “digital preservation and heritage computing” as the theme of my professional career. Eventually, this led me to envision the Centre of Excellence for Digital Preservation to be established at C-DAC with funding support from the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology. This was the flagship project under the Indian National Digital Preservation Program. I was fascinated by the idea of the “Trusted Digital Repository”, a new entity, which I wanted to study and develop from scratch. When I formulated the proposal in 2010, neither the TRAC (Trustworthy Repositories Audit & Certification) metrics were accepted by ISO as a standard nor was the certifying body accredited. My commitment to establishing a trusted digital repository was indeed a leap of faith!
Most of the archiving institutions in India had not even heard of this standard. The challenge was not just multi-disciplinary and multi-institutional but it also required international collaborations. I had conceptualized the project with a user-centric focus, in the sense that it had to address the entire spectrum of activities - right from the development of digital preservation tools and solutions, to the establishment of pilot digital repositories in collaboration with archiving institutions, development of national standard and guidelines, training for archiving professionals and coordination for audit and certification. I was confident of good outcomes despite the struggle, impediments, and adventures during the journey. But I had never dreamt of my nomination for the prestigious Emmett Leahy Award! It came as a pleasant surprise to me! The award has hugely encouraged and inspired me.
I chose a unique approach for our project, which was to simultaneously implement multiple technical interpretations and adaptations of the OAIS reference model for various domains. This experiment resulted in a series of specialized archival systems named DIGITĀLAYA, which focused on the preservation of electronic office records, government archives, and e-governance records, audiovisual archives, and digital libraries. “DIGITĀLAYA” is a fusion of English and Sanskrit words. It means to convey “an abode for bits”.
The beauty of the OAIS model is such that, even though conceptually each archival system is similar, the technological implementation can be different. For example, we had to use distributed processing on the cloud to overcome the performance bottlenecks for ingesting massive volumes of e-governance records, which is different if compared with sequential ingesting of digital objects. It became clear that the “one-size-fits-all” approach to digital repository management may not do full justice to domain-specific requirements. This has made me curious to study and compare technical adaptations of OAIS in different domains. Presently, I am interested in expanding the capability of DIGITĀLAYA software to automate the generation of reports based on technical parameters that are necessary for ISO 16363 trustworthy digital repository audits.
I take this opportunity to reflect on the Indian scenario and share my insights for the field of digital records and information management. The Government of India has launched an ambitious “Digital India Program” to ensure that all citizen services are offered electronically by improving online infrastructure and connectivity. But, we need to recognize the fact that Indian government archives are still not geared to manage digital records, which will be produced in massive volumes through the “Digital India” initiative. The central and state-level archives have to be equipped in terms of technical competencies and infrastructure required for preserving the national digital assets. The threat of digital obsolescence is rampant across all domains. Therefore, a comprehensive national policy on digital preservation must be defined based on priority.
Our first-hand experience shows that ISO 16363 certification for Trusted Digital Repositories is capable of assigning priority, resources, and recognition for the digital assets needing long term preservation. Therefore, I hope that in the near future, certified digital repositories will emerge as the backbone of information governance. UNESCO has already adopted the standard-setting instrument on “preservation in the digital era” but we need to create greater awareness among policymakers.
I have always felt that publishing digital resources online can only reduce the darkness in archives as we still don’t have access to the vast knowledge implicitly treasured in records. By and large, common citizens are unable to fully access and use the civilizational memories preserved in archives. Therefore, the archives should be further developed into reservoirs of civilizational knowledge and wisdom. Presently, researchers and scholars have to invest decades of manual and intellectual efforts to tap into this knowledge. Therefore, advancements in the emerging field of digital humanities is certainly a way forward, wherein we can deploy computational methods for interpretation, analytics, and mining into digital archives.
Convergence between digital archives and artificial intelligence can create opportunities to offer knowledge services for various user communities. The UNESCO World Report on “Knowledge Societies” underlines the need to migrate from memory-based to knowledge-based societies while deliberating on the preservation of digital heritage. Thus, we can unleash the wisdom of many generations to integrate and connect the digital archives with our daily lives.
I find many parallels between the working of human memory and records management. Short-term memory and long-term memory are in fact the implicit records retention policies functioning inside the human brain. Our instinctive decision to preserve an experience in the long-term memory is made on the basis of emotions, uniqueness, need, and value associated with it. On the contrary, conventional records retention schedules depend on pre-defined record types and durations. In the future, big data repositories will need intelligent tools to perform content-based analytics, to automatically identify the preservation-worthy information. We require new techniques and standards for making the records intelligible by machines and humans both. Meaningful and content-based discovery from massive big data archives is yet another challenge.
Globally, the governments and businesses are pushed into accepting digital workplaces, online citizen services, virtual courts, virtual meetings, and online transactions as the new normal due to the COVID19 pandemic. The pandemic has accelerated the production of electronic records by leaps and bounds, but without much preparedness for digital preservation. As we know, electronic evidence is amorphous, unlike physical artefacts. The legal admissibility, preservation, and e-discovery of electronic evidence are posing major challenges before the judiciary. Internationally, many of these issues might have been dealt with in different ways, but the documented case studies are scattered all over the Internet. There are some national and regional initiatives to share information but I feel that, as a global community, we should come together to create a “Digital Preservation Body of Knowledge” for shaping the profession.
I would love to work on some of these challenges in my humble capacity.
I would like to pay my tribute to C-DAC for encouraging me to pursue research and development in the field of “Digital Preservation & Heritage Computing”. The ecosystem of C-DAC has always driven me to innovate technological solutions in my domain. Due to C-DAC, I am able to dream, conceptualize and lead the digital preservation mission for developing Intelligent Archiving Tools, Semantic Digital Archives, Digital Preservation as a Service (DPaaS), and Cloud-based Large Scale Data Processing. Such achievements are possible because of my team’s strong support and their belief in my vision. Therefore, I accept this award on behalf my digital preservation team in the Human-Centred Design and Computing Group at C-DAC.
As I conclude, I wish to thank and acknowledge my mentors and collaborators.
I am deeply indebted to late Dr. Ashok Chakravarti, former Group Coordinator (GC) of R & D in the IT Group, Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY), who gave me the opportunity to envision the Indian National Digital Preservation Programme. He helped me in realizing the calling of my life. The progress in digital preservation was not possible without the support from successive leaderships in the Ministry, who offered the much-needed continuity and funding support to our project. My sincere thanks to MeitY.
I am extremely grateful to Dr. Mukul Sinha for his invaluable guidance and unwavering support as the chairman of the project steering committee. As my mentor, he was always available to rescue me out of difficult situations and inspire me with his words of wisdom and advice.
I express my profound gratitude to Dr. David Giaretta for being the beacon of knowledge and inspiring me throughout this journey. He not only welcomed me into the Alliance for Permanent Access, which had predominantly European participants, but also made me an integral part of the discussions related to ISO standards and ongoing digital preservation research. It helped me in keeping pace with the international developments.
My special thanks to IGNCA for collaborating with us and using DIGITĀLAYA, the e-Library & Archival System for establishing the NCAA Trustworthy Repository. I am thankful to all the stakeholders and collaborating institutions for their cooperation and support.
Dinesh S. Katre