January 19, 2022

CNI Publishes Executive Roundtable Report: “Strategies for Preserving Institutional and Researcher Email”

CNI (Coalition For Networked Information) released the “Strategies for Preserving Institutional and Researcher” report earlier today.

From the CNI Report:

2018-09-06_17-42-41At the Spring 2018 CNI meeting in San Diego, CA, we held two sessions of an Executive Roundtable on Strategies for Preserving Institutional and Researcher Email. CNI and its member institutions have been addressing this issue since the late 1990s when stewards of institutional records realized that email was replacing letters and other forms of traditional paper-based communication, and special collections and archives began to accession significant amounts of electronic mail.  While institutions had policies in place for archiving institutional paper correspondence, those policies were difficult to extend to electronic mail, and both records managers and archivists struggled to meet the challenges.

At the same time, librarians and archivists are now routinely receiving very large email collections as parts of the scholarly record of individuals from their own institutions (for example prominent scholars or institutional leaders) or other individuals or organizations, such as public intellectuals, non-profit public interest organizations, or politicians; the email they are accessioning will be a key part of future special collections.


While there are many complex technical issues involved in preserving email, including the handling of attachments and the capture of contextual information about those involved in the correspondence, it’s clear the most difficult questions are policy related. How is the ubiquitous mixture of personal and more public correspondence managed (particularly given that redaction in advance seems impossible at scale)? How do we protect the privacy of those involved in email exchanges, or those incidentally mentioned? Email archives from university administrative officers are a trove of sensitive personnel, fund-raising and policy materials; faculty email typically involves students. For some special collections, there are extraordinary curatorial sensitivities that may need to be considered in dealing with contributed email corpora. What are acceptable rates of error in redaction or filtering when dealing with email collections (which, of course, are also sensitive to who can access the collections and under what conditions)?

Direct to Full Text Report (8 pages; PDF)

See Also: CLIR Releases New Report on the “Complexity and Challenges of Preserving Email” (Report from the Task Force on Technical Approaches for Email Archives)(August 13, 2018)

About Gary Price

Gary Price (gprice@mediasourceinc.com) is a librarian, writer, consultant, and frequent conference speaker based in the Washington D.C. metro area. Before launching INFOdocket, Price and Shirl Kennedy were the founders and senior editors at ResourceShelf and DocuTicker for 10 years. From 2006-2009 he was Director of Online Information Services at Ask.com, and is currently a contributing editor at Search Engine Land.