File Formats for Digital Preservation

PDF, TXT, CSV, AVI . . . how well do you know the file formats of your public records? Choosing the right file format to for your public records is important. Choose the wrong format, and you may discover that you can’t open those files in just a few short years. In fact, you may already have files clogging up your system that your computer can’t open because it doesn’t recognize the file format. Or maybe it can open them, but the file appears jumbled and doesn’t look the way it should.

File formats can be a problem for many reasons: the format is owned by a private company and only usable by that company’s software (remember, some companies last, but most don’t), the format is outdated, or the format was poorly designed so software misreads the file. There are many pitfalls when choosing a format, so it’s important that records that need to be retained by retained in strong, reliable formats. If you are transferring records to the State Archives, there are certain file formats that you should use for transfer.

The first document, File Format Guidelines for Management and Long-Term Retention of Electronic Records, recommends formats for state and local agencies to use in-house to preserve their public records. It presents a table of format recommendations along with descriptions of all recommended formats.


The second document, File Formats for Transfer of Electronic Records to the State Archives of North Carolina, lists the formats that agencies should use when transferring records to the State Archives. Descriptions of these formats can be found in the File Format Guidelines document (above)


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  1. Pingback: Electronic File to Microfilm (and back!) Conversion « The G.S. 132 Files

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