JISC Beginner's Guide to Digital Preservation

…creating a pragmatic guide to digital preservation for those working on JISC projects

Preserving your Emails

Posted by Marieke Guy on 2nd March 2011

Anyone who works at the University of Bath will be having a strange week this week…Last week the University email server ‘broke’ and since Thursday afternoon a limited service has been running. We currently have email but cannot see any messages that were sent and/or stored before Thursday afternoon.

A summary of the events leading up to the email downtime and the planned course of action over the next few days is given on the University of Bath Web site:

To briefly summarise the events prior to the downtime:

  • On Monday 21 February at 2pm it was noticed there were some errors being detected on the backup mail store – at which point we raised a call to Oracle the supplier of the components.
  • Thursday 24 February pm – errors spotted this time on Main mail server.
  • Shortly after corruptions became apparent and the service came to a halt.

The loss of email has left most us in a bit of a mess – there can’t be many of us who don’t rely heavily on email. Email is now such a core part of our business processes that not being able to refer to old messages or see those that arrived last week (many people were on holiday during the half-term break) is very disoreintating.

Brian Kelly has written a thought provoking blog post asking if the situation suggests that it is Time to Move to GMail?

He argues:

So yes there will be problems with externally-hosted systems, just as there will be problems with in-house systems (and ironically the day before the BUCS email system went down and two days before GMail suffered its problems my desktop PC died and I had to spend half a day setting up a new PC!). It may therefore be desirable to develop plans for coping with such problems – and note that a number of resources which provide advice on backing up GMail have been provided recently, including a Techspot article on “How to Backup your Gmail Account” and a Techland article on “How to backup GMail“.

But in addition to such technical problems there are also policy challenges which need to be considered. At the University of Bath email accounts are deleted when staff and students leave the institution (and for a colleague who retired recently the email account was deleted a day or so before she left). One’s GMail account, on the other hand, won’t be affected by changes in one’s place of study or employment. In light of likely redundancies due to Government cutbacks isn’t it sensible to consider migration from an institutional email service? And shouldn’t those who are working or studying for a short period avoid making use of an institutional email account which will have a limited life span?

Personally I continue to use Hotmail when out-of-work but I have no back up plan and the loss of my messages would be fairly devestating. Even losing my phone contacts left me in a pickle.

The JISC Beginner’s Guide to Digital Preservation has a section on preserving email which references the DCC’s Curating e-mails paper.

It’s times like these you really wish you had a plan…

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