Careful analysis and planning is essential for the successful development and implementation of an imaged filing system. The Archives can help in this process, particularly if contacted in the early planning stages of an imaging/digitizing project. Points to consider may include:
Reasons to Go Digital. Consider the reasons for initiating an imaged filing system. The most justifiable reasons are typically related to immediate and shared access to the information contained in the records. When there is a valid business need for multiple people to view a record frequently, quickly, and simultaneously, imaging the record for shared-access electronic storage may increase efficiency and productivity. Other reasons, such as reducing paper storage or correcting a poorly organized file structure, generally do not provide sufficient justification to initiate an imaging project.
Records Retention Schedules. General and office-specific records retention schedules apply to all University Records, regardless of media or format. A schedule developed for paper records will also apply to imaged versions of those records unless the schedule is formally modified.
If paper records are scheduled for destruction in 5 years, images of those records should likewise be destroyed in 5 years. Before placing such images in a document management system, make sure the system allows for systematic, time-based records destruction. Unless shared electronic access to information is essential for business practices, it is generally not cost-effective to scan documents that are scheduled for destruction in a short time period.
If paper records are scheduled to be transferred to the Archives for appraisal or retention, images of those records must likewise be transferred to the Archives. Before placing such images in a document management system, make sure the files can be exported from the system for transfer to the Archives in a non-proprietary format.
Destroying the Paper Originals. In most cases the paper originals can be destroyed as soon as scanning is completed and checked for quality. The scanned image becomes the Official Copy of the record and is admissible as evidence in court proceedings. The paper original becomes an Unofficial Copy. Some offices feel more comfortable storing the paper originals for a limited period of time (no more than 3 years) to make sure the imaged filing system is working correctly.
If the images are not dependable replicas of the paper originals, or if the paper originals have intrinsic value, the images should be considered Unofficial Copies and the paper originals should be retained in accordance with established records retention schedules. Please consult with the Archives to determine whether paper originals have intrinsic historical value.
Access versus Preservation. Electronic records are good for access but bad for preservation. Microfilm records are good for preservation but bad for access.
Imaged filing systems can increase the accessibility of records and allow for multiple authorized persons to view a document at the same time. Paper and microfilm, however, remain the most inexpensive and stable media for long-term preservation of records of enduring value. The initial production cost of microfilm images is usually lower than digital images, and the long-term maintenance costs of microfilm are drastically lower. Preservation of electronic records requires an ongoing commitment of financial and personnel resources to ensure that the files remain readable, which necessitates regular migration to new file formats, storage media, and software applications.
Microfilm is almost always the more sensible solution for paper records that are being reformatted primarily for security backup and preservation reasons. Digital reformatting is most appropriate when accessibility is the primary concern.
Indexing and Metadata. Without proper indexing, information contained in an imaged filing system will not be easily located and could be irretrievably lost. Imaged files must be indexed according to users' anticipated access needs. Imaged files should also have pertinent metadata embedded in each individual record, indicating the Office of Record responsible for maintaining the files, title and description of the record series, access restrictions, and imaging information such as date scanned, equipment used and image resolution.
Authenticity, Integrity and Security. One of the main advantages of imaged filing systems – shared access – is also a potential liability. Records must be safeguarded against unauthorized access, copying, and modifications. The Office of Record must consistently monitor where files are stored (including backup), who maintains the storage space (whether a University office or an outside vendor), and who has what level of access for what purposes. The inclusion of highly sensitive data, such as social security numbers or health care information, increases potential risks and therefore, demands even tighter security safeguards.
Cost / Benefit Analysis. Imaging requires extensive work before, during and after the actual scanning takes place. Before initiating an imaged filing system, develop a solid plan that includes document preparation, scanning specifications (resolution, equipment, file format, et cetera), quality control, indexing, metadata, access and security protocols, maintenance and administration, storage and retrieval, backup, migration, and scheduled records destruction or transfer to the Archives. Conduct a thorough cost / benefit analysis and consult with the University Archives to determine whether imaging is the best solution for a particular record series.
This page was last updated August 29, 2013