Documentation from public administrations is increasingly generated by means of the Information and Communication Technologies, which has boosted the design and implementation of public services in electronic systems. While this process has done much to make more information available, it has also led to substantial difficulties where treatment, access and preservation are concerned.
The electronic environments in which the bulk of archive documents are generated have obliged records managers and archivists, including those participating in government activities, to consider new solutions for continuing to guarantee the maintenance of their authenticity and reliability, and for formulating public policies for the long-term preservation of documents and hence for their conservation as part of the documentary heritage of the countries in question.
Research projects regarding the management of electronic documents and preservation of the digital environment have been launched from very different spheres. These efforts have involved international organizations such as the International Council on Archives, the national archives of various countries (the United States National Archives and Records Administration [NARA], the National Archives of Australia, the National Archives of the United Kingdom, and Library and Archives Canada), the European Commission, as a substantial demonstration of State public support, and especially the academic sphere of the Universities of Pittsburgh in the United States, British Columbia in Canada, and Monash in Australia.
Research attention under these projects was basically focused on delimiting the concept of electronic archive document; determining the types of electronic systems that generated them; the joint formulation of functional requirements for the management of archive documents, meeting the legal and administrative needs of every kind enabling institutions to make use of them in the design and implementation of electronic information systems for the generation, use and maintenance of integral, authentic and reliable electronic documents archives, with respect for the various administrative, legal and archival traditions of the individual countries.
Together with these purposes the projects have emphasized the fact that action by archivists and records managers at the stage of generating documents and identifying documentary types is essential, given that the design of any records management system without standardized procedures and document control and security mechanisms detracts from its reliability and authenticity, thereby nullifying its testimonial and probative value both from the legal and administrative viewpoints and from the historical angle.
The most substantial bibliographical production regarding these themes is to be found, basically, in articles published throughout the 1990s; the most representative reviews are union publications of professional associations of archivists and records managers, such as Archivaria, The American Archivist, Archivum, Comma, Journal of the American Society for Information Science and The American Archivist.
29 September 2004