Off the Record: Digitization & Legacy Paper Records

by Erica Rice

Tune in monthly for a curated collection of articles we found interesting on a broad range of topics; some which are directly related to records management and others which might share common themes.
This month we are focusing on digitization and imaging projects…

No, we didn’t write these articles —hence the name of this series, “Off the Record”— but fortunately, we didn’t need to in order to share the knowledge with our subscribers.

Why Isn’t Everything in the Archives Available Online? — ARIS (TSLAC)

Our first featured article this month comes from TSLAC’s own Archives & Information Services (ARIS) division! ARIS publishes its own blog, Out of the Stacks, to share news about the archives – but we thought this particular post was worthy to re-share here on The Texas Record.

In this post, Steven Kantner discusses the challenges of digitization, and why these types of projects are not as easy as they might seem. The first hurdle is deciding what to digitize – i.e. which records have priority due to high demand, physical condition, or imminent media obsolescence. From a records management perspective, we have to make similar judgment calls when our offices decide to start “going paperless” or “moving to the cloud.” In fact, we usually provide a quick two-page guide during our training classes to help you decide: “Is Imaging Right for the Records?”

The article also goes into important considerations for adding descriptive metadata to digital objects, as well as determining the file format and quality standards for scanned images and other types of digital media. It may make you realize that there are some factors you may have failed to consider in the planning process for your digitization project.

Managing Legacy Paper Files in the Digital Era“- ARMA Magazine

In this article, ARMA addresses how to go about integrating legacy paper records into your electronic records management system. Their argument is that analog and paper records are essentially “dark” records – they are not discoverable in the same way as e-records.

Once again, prioritization is being recommended as the first step in planning an imaging project. ARMA recommends:

  • assessing which records are accessed most frequently;
  • consulting key stakeholders to determine regulatory and business needs, and
  • deciding which records need to be maintained in paper form, and which can be shredded after scanning.
    • (for more information on this point, see our blog post)

The advice in this article can help you determine whether or not to maintain some paper records before going “full paperless.”

Backlog of VA Medical Records Awaiting Digitization is 5 Miles Tall ” – FedScoop

And finally, a cautionary tale about digitization efforts. In recent years, the National Archives & Records Administration (NARA) has made some big pushes for paperless recordkeeping and better e-records management. Some federal agencies are rushing to modernize their records management programs, which has resulted in some miscalculations in terms of resources and time needed to complete digitization projects.

The Office of the Inspector General (OIG) has reported that Veterans Affairs has a scanning backlog of 597,000 records dating back to at least October 2016. According to the OIG, this is the result of a lack of “adequate oversight or resources” to support the digitization project. This is why it is so important to establish a comprehensive plan for digitization and estimate your return on investment (ROI) and available resources – time, labor, IT infrastructure, digital storage space, etc. – before you even start scanning.

That’s it for this month…let us know in the comments below what topics you are interested in learning more about!

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