Understanding Preservation and Reconstruction of Electronic Records

The management and appraisal of electronic documents have been identified among the top ten challenges in the 34th Semi-annual Report to Congres by National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) Office of Inspector General (OIG) in 2005, and in the Strategic Plan of the National Archives and Records Administration 2006-2016: Preserving the Past to Protect Future.

Our research is motivated mainly by the NARA Strategic Plan and the NARA 1441 directive specifically addressing document appraisal criteria. As stated in the Appraisal Policy of NARA:

Not all records that constitute essential evidence possess archival value. It is through the appraisal process that NARA determines the value and thus the final action (disposition) of Federal records that are no longer needed for current Government business.

The objective of our project research is to define and improve specific decisions with which Electronic Records Archives (ERA) appraises electronic holdings. The approach includes:

  • simulation on the large datasets to support archival decissions
  • design computer-assisted appraisal tools in order to support preservation of documents, data and software.
introduction to relationships

Overview of temporal aspects of electronic records delivered for preservation. The new record (document '4', data '4' and '5' and software '3' and '4') is automatically evaluated and related to other, already cathegorized records.

Our goal is to provide computer assisted support for answering several appraisal criteria such as: Are the records related to other permanent records?, What is the timeframe covered by the information?, What is the volume of records?, Is sampling an appropriate appraisal tool?
The project aims at better understanding of preservation and reconstruction of electronic records. We propose three inter-linked studies:

  • Computer-Assisted Appraisal of Documents.
  • Preservation and Reconstruction Methodologies for 3D and 3D+time Data.
  • Workflow-Based Preservation of Documents, Data and Software.

The studies above focus on automated extraction of relationship among documents (metadata extraction), integrity verification and document versions sampling. Additionally we would like to generate and retrieve information about temporal relationships among documents (data and software) categories.


The project is supported by the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA).

Projects description

Exploratory Document Appraisal Framework.

The volume of contemporary documents and the number embedded object types is steadily growing. There is a lack of understanding how to compare documents containing heterogeneous digital objects and what hardware and software configurations would be cost-efficient for handling document related operations such as appraisals. The project addresses the problems of image/text/vector graphics extraction from PDF documents, computation of image/text/vector graphics characterictics, fusion of similarity metrics computed for all PDF components, grouping of documents, integrity verifications, and sampling. Aditionally we perform counting operations using cluster computing and the Map and Reduce programming paradigm.

doc2learn images

PDF content is shown in the developed framework, Document To Learn (Doc2learn). Here image primitves are described as groups of colors.

The figure shows multiple views of the PDF content as needed for appraisal. While the PDF reader would present the view of the document layout per page, other views might be needed for understanding the characteristics of PDF components.

IOGraph tool

IOGraph: An illustration of how the IOGraph tool is used for finding the shortest conversion sequence from an original 3D file format (stp) to a target 3D file format (ply).

File format conversions.

Motivated by the large number of file formats within the 3D file domain, NCSA Polyglot was created to provide an extensible, scalable, and quantifiable means of converting between formats. The system is extensibile in terms of being able to easily incorporate new conversion software, scalable in being able to distribulte work load among parrallel machines, and quantifiable in having a built in framework for measuring information loss across conversions.

The tool called IOGraph (left) could provide information about the shortest conversion path from a source file format to a target format. Around 140 file formats for 3D data and 17 software packages with import/export and 3D display functionalities are supported.

Conversion Software Registry (CSR)
CSR search tool


The front end of the 'Add->Script' pane of the Conversion software registry web interface.

Conversion Software Registry (CSR) has been designed for collecting information about software that are capable of file format conversions. The CSR is part of a broader initiative to understand and solve the file format conversions problem. The work is motivated by a community need for finding file format conversions inaccessible via current search engines and by the specific need to support systems that could actually perform conversions, such as the new generation of scalable, multi-OS NCSA Polyglot. conversion service framework. In addition, the value of CSR is in complementing the existing file format registries and introducing software quality information obtained by content-based comparisons of files before and after conversions. The contribution of this work is in the CSR data model design that includes file format extension based conversion, as well as software scripts, software quality measures and test file specific information for evaluating software quality.

Discovery of File Relationships.

File2Learn in graphic mode

File to Learn, visualization and editing tool in graphic mode. Connecting lines represent metadata shared by the two Title blocks of engineering drawing.

A framework for file relationship discovery between pairs of 2D engineering drawings, and between 2D engineering drawings and the 3D CAD Models obtained from them has been developed. The framework consists of modules for automated file system and content-based metadata extraction, for metadata organization and storage, and for exploratory visual inspection and insertion of discovered relationships between pairs of files. The system level metadata extraction is accomplished by using Aperture software and leads to information about file name, MIME type, and disk location. Additional metadata are obtained by performing file format identification with DROID software based on the PRONOM repository of file formats. Metadata from content based analyses come from 2D engineering drawings by applying Optical Character Recognition (OCR), and from 3D CAD models by keyword based extraction of information. All metadata extracted are represented as RDF triples and stored using Tupelo semantic content management repository. Exploratory visual inspection and insertion of discovered relationships have been enabled by developing a graphic user interface, File2Learn to all metadata acquired and by adding analytical capabilities to support discoveries.

People, Publications, Presentations

Team members

  • Peter Bajcsy
    Research group ISDA, National Center for Supercomputing Applications, University of Illinois
  • Rob Kooper
    ISDA, NCSA, University of Illinois
  • Kenton McHenry
    ISDA, NCSA, University of Illinois
  • William McFadden
    ISDA, NCSA, University of Illinois
  • Jason Kastner
    ISDA, NCSA, University of Illinois
  • Michal Ondrejcek
    ISDA, NCSA, University of Illinois