Digital/Electronic Records Guidelines

Preserving, Donating, and Transferring Your Digital/Electronic Records to the University Archives

WFU’s academics, administration, campus activities, and programs are documented through records. Most records are retained for a specific period of time and/or transferred to the University Archives for permanent retention. Please see WFU’s Retention of Permanent University Records or contact us with questions at or 336-758-5755.

The following are general guidelines for preserving, storing, and transferring your digital records to the University Archives.1

1. Identify and Locate Your Digital/Electronic Records

Valuable records may include files on computer(s), external hard drives, thumb drives, memory cards, cameras, tablets, or smartphones. Don’t forget files that are only stored on cloud services such as Google Drive, Dropbox, or email.

2. Select Items to Retain

For guidance in determining which documents may be of value to the University, visit our Records Retention web page and speak with SCA staff member for additional guidance.

Questions to consider:

  • How essential or irreplaceable is the document?
  • Is it a working copy or a final version?
  • What information would you lose if the file were deleted or corrupted? Does the document have issues related to intellectual property rights, copyright, or privacy associated with it?

Technical guidance:

  • Save files at the highest possible resolution. Compressed files are easier to access due to size, but there is a loss of content.
  • Review the quality of your file content as well as its size – is it worth saving?
  • Save word processing files in common formats or, ideally, as PDF/A files.
  • Avoid saving files in proprietary software formats. When possible, convert files to the most common, accessible, and, when possible, open formats.
  • Consult with SCA to develop a preservation plan with difficult and high-priority files.2

Preferred file formats:

  • In selecting formats for archiving, look for non-proprietary, unencrypted, uncompressed formats. A sample is included below, see WakeSpace guidance for more information about preferred formats.
    • Audio files: FLAC, MP3, WAV. Uncompressed formats preferred.
    • Image files: GIF, PNG, JPG, JPEG, TIFF. Uncompressed formats preferred.
      PDF/A strongly preferred.
    • Video files: DV, HDV, MOV, MPEG2, MPEG4, MPEG2000, QT. Uncompressed formats preferred.
  • We strongly prefer that you convert materials in your Google Drive from Google’s proprietary formats. In cases where that is not possible, please work with SCA faculty and staff to transfer digital copies that our staff can convert the files.
  • The Smithsonian Institution also maintains a helpful list of preservable formats.

3. Organize and Name Everything (Metadata)

Provide each folder and file with a descriptive name, including description and date. Aim for creating short but meaningful file names for easy identification. Create a reporting or file system that is user- and future-friendly—descriptive, standardized file names that will be easy to find and file formats that allow users to search and discover data sets with long-term access in mind.

  • Be consistent and logical with names; try not to use special characters and opt for underscores or camel case – CamelCase – instead of spaces.
  • To list dates, use a standard format like YYYY-MM-DD or YYYYMMDD.
  • Add descriptive information to the file name. An acceptable file name can include: Project name, Location, Researcher, date (range), type of data, and file extension (.txt, .mp3, …).
    • Consider how the file was created, its creator, when and where was it created
    • This descriptive information can also be embedded in the file itself. For example, this can be done in Microsoft programs under the “Properties” tab.
  • Create a directory (i.e., file folders) structure that matches how the files relate to each other (Master files, working files, project files, etc.). Avoid many layers of folders as possible.
  • Provide metadata, which is descriptive information about the data you are using. An Excel spreadsheet allows us to batch transfer and ingest records and the University Archives can provide a template. It should contain information about the data’s content, structure, and permissions so it is discoverable for future use. Contextual information should include:
    • Data author/creator(s)
    • What data this set contains
    • Descriptions of fields
    • When/Where the data was created
    • Why this data was created and how
  • Finally, consider creating a document to share your archiving plan that will be easy to understand by you and others.

4. Store and Keep Your Items Safe

Create two copies of long-term preservation copies for peace of mind. Maintain a simple arrangement: have one primary copy and two secondaries that are back ups. Consult WFU’s Information Systems for help devising secure storage for personal and University records.

  • Put your two backup copies on two different types of storage media, such as an external hard drive and in a cloud service (preferred). At least one copy should be physically, geographically separate from other copies.
  • Make sure each storage medium stays current. Check twice a year, maybe more if the content is especially important to you
  • Describe the files, including the software they were created in, content overview, related people, and relevant subjects, in a document kept in a secure location

5. Maintain and Migrate As Needed

  • Check files as least once a year to ensure that the files are still working and have not been corrupted
  • Migrate to new systems and software as required – for example, when Microsoft Word upgraded from .doc to .docx

1 Sources include Library of Congress’ Preserving Digital Memories, University of Michigan Bentley Library’s Bits and Pieces, and Purdue University Libraries’ “Personal Digital Archiving: The basics.”

2 For WFU Faculty interested in the long-term digital preservation of their research data and scholarship, please contact the Digital Initiatives & Scholarly Communication Team.