Zhang Jane (School of Arts and Sciences, Department of Library and Information Science, Catholic University of America)
This paper aims to construct a systematic way of thinking about correspondence as a documentary form, and specifically, its persistent representation features that have been carried over for more than two centuries in the history of American recordkeeping and archives. The paper starts with a brief review of persistent representation features of correspondence as a documentary form and follows by a historical overview of their roles in traditional correspondence recordkeeping. It then moves to discuss how these features have been innovatively synthesized into electronic mail systems, and to what degree each of them functions effectively and contributes to the management of email correspondence. Finally, the paper focuses on cases of email archives and discusses the relationships between persistent features of correspondence and email archival representation.
Correspondence as a documentary form normally pertains to an individual, organization, or place; covers at a certain period of time; relates to one subject or a few subjects; applies to a particular use purpose, and results in a series of mutual communications (outgoing or incoming). These features have been utilized to facilitate the organization and retrieval of traditional correspondence in the history of American recordkeeping, from bound copy books, letter press books, flat filing systems, to vertical filing systems, each with its unique organization structure.
Electronic mail services developed in the last quarter of the 20th century manage to incorporate the persistent features into an integrated model of correspondence recordkeeping. However, the level of control applied to each representation feature has resulted in differences in effectiveness of email management. There are four levels of control, of which, the mail box control associated with how email messages are used, being the weakest. The current development of the industry, as shown in the examples of Outlook and Gmail, develops tools for users to organize email messages into categories, to achieve better organization and management of email correspondence.
Researchers and practitioners in digital archives, like their counterparts working with traditional correspondence, also take advantage of the persistent representation features to organize and make email records available for users. The paper analyzes cases of email archives to discuss the relationships between persistent features of correspondence and email archival representation.