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Now that you've scanned... - January 2002

Once you have imaged your physical documents, each state offers different advice on how to manage the information.

When you embark on an imaging project, issues such as ensuring the accuracy of the scanning and properly disposing of physical documents when they are past their lifespan emerge. Over the past year or so there have been various views put forward in respect to the short- and long-term period of retention for documents after scanning, and the management of electronic data as archives.

The State Records of New South Wales, the Public Records Office Victoria, the National Archives of Australia and the State Records Office of Western Australia all have guidelines freely available.

The State Records Office of Western Australia has advised in the Winter 2001 issue of its newsletter 'STATE of the RECORD' through an article on the Evidence Act Amendments that WA government agencies should "err on the side of caution by preserving the original records once scanned. That is, the State Records Office recommends that agencies retain their temporary value records in original format for the full duration of their retention periods as specified in the approved retention and disposal schedule."

The Public Records Office Victoria, in its guideline 'Scanning or Imaging of Records: Advice to Victorian Agencies', asks the questions: has the scanning system been designed to ensure that adequate copies of the paper originals are being made? Are the copies authorised as true and accurate renditions of the original by someone in the organisation in a position of authority? These questions raise the issue of ensuring accuracy and veracity, of particular concern when as with records of value to the state, there is little margin for error.

The State Records NSW advises that for agencies to be able to legally destroy records of short-term value that have been imaged, they must ensure that the conditions for destruction described in this general disposal authority are met. These conditions are that: all requirements for retaining originals have been assessed and fulfilled; copies are made which are authentic, complete and accessible; and copies are kept for the authorised retention period.

The National Archives of Australia in its guideline 'The Impact of the Evidence Act on Commonwealth Recordkeeping: Records in Evidence – document R21' advises that, "as government agencies make increasing use of newer technologies for record keeping and information management, record keeping practices should be reviewed so that agencies continue to produce and capture records which are authentic, reliable, and accurate for legal, audit, and other purposes."

Broader impact.

While the advice of record keeping authorities has direct bearing on the operations of government, the issues they raise impact any organisation working with imaged or born-electronic documents.

There are several key aspects to consider: ensuring physical documents are adequately captured, ensuring they are reliable and readily accessible, and then ensuring physical documents are appropriately disposed of. As is observed in the white paper 'Preserving documents forever: matching technology and business consideration' prepared by research firm Macarthur Stroud International for the UK's Data Archiving Association, digital technologies have appealed as a way of storing electronic and imaged documents because of the ease of access, however the 15-year lifespan of magnetic media and the rapid obsolescence of existing technologies can make this a precarious option for long-term archiving. As Image & Data Manager reported (in November/December 2001), even CD media has lost some lustre as a permanent digital media with a CD-eating fungus discovered in Belize. The fungus, the first recorded fungal consumption of metal, eats a CD's aluminium layer and data-storing polycarbonate resin.

To maintain information on digital media, the paper recommends "having to regenerate the archives every seven to 15 years, leaving a question mark regarding the preservation of original documents in unalterable form". The advantages and disadvantages of digital technologies though must be played against analogue media such as microfilm, which claims a 500 year lifespan and so can keep original documents in an unaltered state. While many organisations use digital technologies for constantly accessed information and analogue technologies for archiving, the white paper poses a possible hybrid solution for long-term record keeping, "an integrated solution that brings together the strengths of digital and analogue solutions will have a compelling appeal in the archival storage markets".

Laurie Varendorff ARMA

The Author

Laurie Varendorff, ARMA, a former RMAA Western Australia Branch president and national director, has been involved in records management for 30 years. He has his own consulting and training business near Perth, Western Australia, and has tutored in recordkeeping and archival storage and preservation at Perth’s Edith Cowan University. Phone: +61 (0)8 9291 6925; mobile: 0417 094 147; email @ Laurie Varendorff

The author, Laurie Varendorff of the Varendorff Records Management Consultancy - TVC - Helping clients manage their e-World gives permission for the redistribution or republishing of this article by individuals and non profit professional organisations without cost based on the condition that he as well as the URL of the article are recognised at the introduction of the article when redistributed or republished.

SPECIAL NOTE: Use of this article by publishers, commercial, government, or educational organisations requires a financial agreement to be negotiated with Laurie as the copyright holder for this work.