Front page > VSARA Recommends: Scanning
Do involve agency business, legal, records, and IT staff in the decision to image records.
Don't make isolated decisions about imaging or begin to image without involving agency business, legal, records, and IT staff.
Do understand the business, legal and recordkeeping requirements before imaging.
Don't make assumptions about business, legal and recordkeeping requirements.
Do identify and describe images (apply "metadata") so that they can be managed as required by State and Federal laws and regulations.
Don't rely on Optical Character Recognition (OCR) for identifying, describing, and subsequently managing digital images.
Thinking About Scanning?
Increasingly, state government makes records available in electronic format. Therefore it is not surprising that interest in imaging, often referred to as scanning, has grown. There are, however, a few things that agencies and departments should know before jumping into an imaging project.
What Is Imaging?
In general, imaging is the process of converting a paper record to an image or picture. Today, digital images are usually created through a scanning operation, but the State of Vermont has a long history of imaging records that predates scanning technology. State employees began imaging their records and converting them to microfiche and microfilm as early as the 1950s. At the time, microfiche was popular for managing active records because records could be added later. Microfilm, on the other hand, became a popular storage and preservation medium. In the mid-1990s, electronic imaging became equally popular.
The first Vermont state standards on digital imaging, or converting paper or microfilm records to digital images, were issued in 1995. They were based on the Association for Information and Image Management (AIIM) TR 25, The Use of Optical Discs for Public Records, which is still an active standard. In 2004, Digital Imaging Guidelines was issued as a state standard. At present, there is a suite of state standards addressing not only imaging but also file formats, recordkeeping, metadata, and, of course, records management in general.
When considering an imaging project, agencies and departments should ensure that their projects conform to state standards, particularly those concerning the management of records. You can find the state standards, many of which have been co-issued by the Vermont State Archives and Records Administration and the Department of Information and Innovation, online at http://vermont-archives.org/records/standards/vermont.htm and http://dii.vermont.gov/Policy_Central.
The decision to image records should be grounded in an overarching need to support and enhance the interoperability, management, accessibility, and preservation of agency or department records. In the past, decisions to image records were often based on the need to save space rather than a clear objective based on business, recordkeeping, and legal requirements. As a result, some agencies and departments spent time and money converting records that in fact no longer needed to be kept for administrative or legal reasons.
As stated in the State of Vermont Imaging Guideline for All Public Agencies, records of all formats, even electronic records, need to be managed until retention requirements have been met. Therefore, if business requirements have not been cross-referenced with recordkeeping requirements, this should be done prior to considering whether or not to implement an imaging project. A comprehensive review of related strategic plans, project charters, record schedules, and similar sources, in addition to state and federal statutes and regulations, is the best way to determine if imaging is necessary.
Additional Things To Consider
Unlike paper or microfilm, neither of which requires significant technology to use, access, or maintain the records over time, the technological commitment to imaging does not stop after the records have been scanned. There is an ongoing need for hardware, software, and technical support as well as media refreshing, upgrades and replacements. Technological obsolescence will also affect the file formats themselves; therefore, it is necessary to ensure that plans and budgets include strategies and costs associated with migrating digital images from one file format to another.
Contextual information that was used to support access to, and the use of, original source documents needs to be considered as well. Optical Character Recognition (OCR) is the technical electronic translation of the text in a scanned image; however, OCR is a layer separate from the image itself, and its accuracy varies based on the original document (handwritten or laser printed). Information ranging from details about the creating agency, to filing cabinet labels and file folder tabs, to the order and organization of the records themselves, to the tangible differences in paper, writing, and format are significant contextual cues. Thus analogous information about the records, usually translated as recordkeeping metadata, is not only necessary to ensure comparable access to digital images but also to demonstrate the authenticity and reliability of the image.
As mentioned earlier, Vermont state standards have been issued to help agencies and departments make decisions regarding their records, including the determination of whether or not to use imaging. If records are imaged, additional technological resources will be necessary. Related state standards and IT policies can be found online at http://vermont-archives.org/records/standards/vermont.htm and http://dii.vermont.gov/Policy_Central.
For any information technology (IT) project, including imaging, the State's CIO's Office maintains a list of pre-qualified IT vendors. Use of this list should reduce the time required to enter into a contract for certain IT service. More information about pre-qualified vendors is also available online at http://dii.vermont.gov/Contract_and_Procurement_Mgmt/Prequalified
This article is a joint effort of the Vermont State Archives and Records Administration and the Department of Information and Innovation, and appears in newsletters of both VSARA and DII.