From the Vault Blog

Electronic Records | Don't Get Caught in the "Twlight Zone"

From email and social media to government documents, electronic records are a big part of our work at the Indiana Archives and Records Administration. We preserve these records in order to provide transparency and accountability to our government. Thus, any problems we encounter with them will bring challenges, but it’s our job to handle them.

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Written and produced by Justin Clark.

Special Thanks to Jeannine Roe and Brian Taylor

Music: “View” by Ametryo

“Twilight Zone” Clips and Music Copyright: CBS Television

Full Text of Video

“Imagine if you will a world where electronic records suddenly disappear. Cities would collapse; governments would fall; widespread panic would ensue. The existential dread that would hang over the world like the Sword of Damocles. . . .”

Cue TV Channel Change

Actually, it wouldn’t be that crazy, but it would be rough. From email and social media to government documents, electronic records are a big part of our work at the Indiana Archives and Records Administration. We preserve these records in order to provide transparency and accountability to our government. Thus, any problems we encounter with them will bring challenges, but it’s our job to handle them.

So, what are electronic records? They come in two broad categories: “born digital” and “converted to digital.” Born digital records are emails, social media posts, documents, spreadsheets, and anything else created by a government agency that exist electronically. Converted records originated on paper, tape, or microfilm and processed for electronic access.

The first is the purview of Jeannine Roe, our electronic records specialist here at the archives. Her job is to retrieve and then process electronic records from state and local governments.

Her biggest challenge is formatting, especially old formats that we no longer use. Think about how many cell phones you’ve ever had. Or computer’s you’ve owned. They’ve changed a lot, haven’t they? The key constant of electronic devices is change-- and this change makes it almost impossible to preserve electronic records in the long-term.

As she said to me in an interview: “Deterioration and obsolescence over time are the biggest factors that we run into for maintaining these things for the longest-term. . . . You can keep paper for 500 years if kept in the right conditions, but electronic records . . . with the larger servers that we utilize here . . . we replace them every four years.”

Yet, electronic records do have one great advantage: access. As Brian Taylor, head of our micrographics lab noted, “Electronic records are the easiest thing to access, as opposed to digging up paper or microfilm.”

Despite technological change, there’s one format that works better for preservation than any electronic medium, and like vinyl, it’s never really gone out of style: microfilm. As Brian said to me, “Preservation, long-term, always has to go to film. . . . We cannot guarantee digital information tomorrow let alone 10 or 20 years from now.” If an EMP spike hits Indiana, wiping out our servers and computers, the only thing we need to look at microfilm is a light and a magnifying glass.

Microfilm, when stored in the correct conditions, can last up to 500 years. Let’s elaborate on the “correct” part of this for a second. The best kind of microfilm for preservation is polyester film with a silver-halide emulsion (that’s the image). This film doesn’t tear like acetate film or fall privy to something called vinegar syndrome, where the film begins to smell and deteriorate. If we really want to preserve electronic records for the long-term, we should consider putting them on polyester microfilm.

So, why should we care so much? As Indiana government becomes more and more committed to digital devices and mediums, it is vital that our staff prepare the archives for the perils and promises of keeping electronic records.

As Jeannine said to me, “For the public, that matters because if they send out a records request or they’re looking for specific topics, about specific people, then we can provide them with those things with certainty that they were what they have requested, and that they were created as they were intended to be and held as they were intended to be.”

This ensures that we provide accessibility, accountability, and transparency of state government to our citizens. In short, it’s a small but essential part of maintaining our democracy.

Thanks for watching! Make sure to hit that “subscribe” button to keep updated on all new videos. Also check out my full interviews with Jeannine and Brian available on this channel. Finally, what kind of electronic records do you have that are worth preserving? Leave your answers in the comments below. We want to hear from YOU!

Past Posts

1917 Fort Benjamin Harrison Postcard

1917 Fort Benjamin Harrison Postcard

This postcard shows soldiers performing field maneuvers at Fort Benjamin Harrison in 1917. 

Thanks to the State Archives of Florida, the Indiana State Archives can add some Indiana postcards to our collection. While doing an assessment of their holdings, the State Archives of Florida discovered records that did not fit their collection policy. They identified institutions that would get better use of the items, and donated them to the appropriate place. 

The postcards, part of the Harold and Geraldine Haskins Postcard Collection, depict a wide range of Indiana life. One postcard shows soldiers performing field maneuvers at Fort Benjamin Harrison in 1917. Other Indiana landmarks and buildings featured include Union Station in Indianapolis, the Methodist Episcopal Hospital in Indianapolis, Abraham Lincoln’s Home, and the Wyandotte Cave. 

Archives use collection policies, also referred to as accession policies, to ensure that consistent decisions are made when forming the archives’ collection. Having a strong collection policy allows the archives to identify a clear mission and to focus resources on those records that will best serve the constituents. 

Here at the Indiana State Archives, our collection policy is to preserve and make accessible records of state and local governments that document public and private rights, actions of state and local government officials, and the institutional character of state and local governments. Exceptions are made for records that have permanent legal and research significance, or document the history of the state. In this case, the postcards, while not created by a government unit, document key Indiana landmarks and scenes.

1867 Indiana State Fair Full Page Print

1867 Indiana State Fair 1867 Indiana State Fair

This is a full page print from "Harper's Weekly" featuring the 1867 Indiana State Fair.

The Indiana State Archives holds records produced by the Indiana State Fair Commission as well as ephemera about the fair collected through the years. This full page print and accompanying article in Harper’s Weekly features the 1867 Indiana State Fair. Harper’s Weekly, was an American political magazine based in NYC and known as “"A journal of civilization.”

Notes about the print:

The print features views of the fair, held in October in Terre Haute, which was “the most successful ever held in that State,” with the Board of Agriculture clearing over $6,000, according to the article.  Additionally, “real live Hoosiers” are pictured in the print. The Harper’s staff attendance at the fair and complimentary article was prompted by the public response to a previous Harper’s Weekly issue that contained a caricature of Hoosiers received poorly: “Many were the indignant letters which we received from Hoosierdom…The real live Hoosier is a gentleman of taste, and culture, and refinement, and the women are beautiful and charming beyond description….”

Want to research this Indiana State Fair resource?

This resource is also available online, digitized by The Lincoln Financial Foundation Collection (Lincoln Library, Allen County Public Library) and hosted by the Internet Archive:

1846 Map of Harmony Township, Posey County

Harmony Township Map TN

This is a 1846 map of Harmony Township, Posey County that divided the township into 11 districts.

The map had been flattened and encapsulated by a conservator in the past. It was related back to the correct record series, Commissioner's Court Records for Posey County, because "comrs." was noted on the back and an archivist had penciled in the date in brackets. Now the map is stored in a flat file and has been barcoded and connected to the written report in our catalog.

Notes about the map:

The map has a section of blue paper covering a gap in the paper. Our current conservator noted this was not a recent repair, because the writing and lines were aligned. It must have been mended at the time of creation. Paper was very valuable and still scarce in the 19th century.

IARA staff looked through the corresponding written records, the same type of blue paper was found. Many items in the folder are recorded on scraps of paper, because commissioners and other government officials would have needed ot use every bit at their disposal in 1840s Indiana.

Want to research this map and related Posey County Township maps and reports?

Come see us! Email our staff to set up a visit and tell them what you want ot see, providing these barcodes:

  • 1846 Harmony Township Districting Map: 46167R 

  • 1846 Maps Districting the Townships of Bethel, Lynn, Marrs, Robb, Robinson, Smith: 46175Z

  • Corresponding Commissioners’ Reports: 13904T

History of Broad Ripple, Indiana

Plat of Wellington, south of the Central Canal. (Click for high resolution)Plat of Broad Ripple Town, north of the Central Canal. (Click for high resolution)

The town of Broad Ripple (image on right) was platted by Jacob Coil (or Coyle) in April, 1837, on land he purchased from Jacob McKay and John Colip. It was located north of the Central Canal which had just started to be constructed.

South of the canal the town of Wellington (image below) was platted in May, 1837, by James and Adam Nelson.

The rivaling towns joined together in 1884 with the establishment of one post office, called Broad Ripple, and located south of the canal. Broad Ripple Village was annexed to the city of Indianapolis in 1922.

The Broad Ripple plat, north of the canal, is bounded by the current streets of Westfield, 64th Street, Carrollton, and the Sugar Bob Lane alley. The area of Wellington shown on the plat maps is bounded by the current streets of Westfield, Winthrop, Broad Ripple Avenue, and Guilford.

Nursing Students

Student nurses at the Home Hospital Training School for Nurses, Lafayette, Indiana, posing outside the Kile Memorial Building, circa 1929. (Click for high resolution)

"Student nurses at the Home Hospital Training School for Nurses, Lafayette, Indiana, posing outside the Kile Memorial Building, circa 1929.” One of a series of twelve photographs documenting student life at the Home Hospital School. Photo courtesy of Dale Armstrong.

Student records from many closed Indiana hospital nursing schools are preserved at the Indiana State Archives. A database of student names from eleven closed schools is now online at

Peru Map

Outline Plat of the City of Peru in Miami County (Click for high resolution)
This is an “Outline Plat of the City of Peru in Miami County” submitted to the Indiana Supreme Court in 1876 as an exhibit in the case of City of Peru et al. v. Daniel R. Bearss et al. The case was decided May 28, 1877 by the Supreme Court. The map shows the present boundaries of the city of Peru and the adjacent lands that the city sought to annex. Among the lands sought to be annexed were parts of J.B. Richardville’s Reserve (Miami Indian), Francis Godfroy’s Reserve No. 12 (Miami Indian) and property owned by James O. Cole (grandfather of Cole Porter).

The map is an ink drawing on linen. Dimensions are 35 and three quarters by 27 inches. The scale is 400 feet to the inch. It was platted and described by J.M. Brown.

Elizabeth Hague, the State Archives’ conservation technician, cleaned and flattened the map, which was folded.