Digitise physical records
You can digitise your records to enable digital access, reduce the amount of physical records requiring storage, and minimise the need for physical proximity and handling of physical records.
Digitisation can also provide an opportunity to streamline business practices, especially if you are transitioning from paper to digital processes.
Note: See dispose of source records for information on what hardcopy or physical records need to be kept and which can be destroyed after digitisation.
You will need to have a plan and processes in place when digitising physical records. This will help you ensure:
- your digitisation processes are defensible
- the digitised versions remain clear, complete and accurate records and fit-for-purpose
- you can store and manage the digitised versions as digital records for their full retention period
- original paper records are destroyed lawfully (if at all)
- you capture and maintain metadata about the records and the digitisation
- you can continue to meet your business, recordkeeping and compliance requirements.
- what records you should digitise and when (e.g. new records, existing paper records, or records from a certain date onwards)
- the type, volume and condition of records to be digitised
- if records should be digitised as a project or on demand
- the level of risk to the records
- when and where the records will be scanned
- how records with additional information will be scanned (e.g. post-it notes, attachments, forms with physical photos added)
- how you document any alterations and edits
- how you will retrieve and transport the original records.
Consider what records need to be digitised based on your business requirements and the record format.
Some record formats are physically less suitable for scanning than others, or demand specialist digitisation equipment and services.
Carefully consider the need to digitise:
- records with intrinsic value
- large format records
- bound volumes
- maps and plans
- audio tapes and video
- records with reflective surfaces
- fragile records and material that require specialised scanning equipment and techniques
- vital records if there is a risk of damage or loss of information
Older records may require significant preparation to get them scan-ready and legible (e.g. lamination, creases, tape, staples etc.).
Scanners that automatically feed documents are not appropriate for historical or fragile records, as they may snag or chew up paper.
Your defensible process will need to cover both in-house and outsourced digitisation activities.
Evidence of your agency's defensible process may be requested if there is an incident in which public records are lost due to negligence or improper process, or in response to RTI requests, court proceedings, or an audit.
Your agency's chief executive officer or their authorised delegate will need to approve the defensible process. You don't need to refer this documentation to QSA.
Note: A defensible process is a mandatory condition under the source records disposal authorisations.
A defensible process needs to be suitable for your agency. It may include any or all of the following:
- quality assurance processes are in place and checks carried out
- strategies to manage, store and preserve the digitised version, including which trusted systems will be used to hold the record for the full retention period
- evidence that records chosen for digitisation are appropriate
- equipment is tested and maintained
- any specific formats or technical specifications are outlined, including which records they should be used for
- recordkeeping and event history metadata is captured and maintained
- any identified risks are considered and mitigated
- process and instructions for how fragile or intrinsic value records are identified, protected, and excluded from the digitisation process, if necessary
- legislation, standards, legal, and community requirements and expectations are considered
- roles and responsibilities are clearly defined
- timeframes are set for records to be checked before being returned to storage or destroyed
- timeframes are identified to review the process and procedures.
If you intend to destroy the original source records, there are mandatory requirements that must be included in your defensible process before records can be destroyed.
Determine if any specific technical specifications need to be used. This should be based on:
- the type of record (e.g. handwritten letter, typed document, photograph, map or plan)
- the purpose of the record
- retention period
- your ability to store, preserve and manage the digitised record.
- digital file formats
- resolution and bit-depth
- colour management (e.g. black and white vs full colour, specific colours or variations)
- functionality of equipment to be used.
Note: If original text is faint, settings may require constant adjustment or considerable post-production work to make the copy legible.
Some software may automatically correct imperfections. The extent of automatic corrections can be set through tolerance levels. Make sure information is not lost during the process—for example, if the tolerances are set too high, the dots above the letter 'i' may be removed.
If necessary, document any specific technical requirements and specifications you have decided to use for specific record types (e.g. very detailed records, faded text, specific colours).
Checks should be based on the amount of records digitised, the type of records, the information they contain, and their purpose. These checks will form part of your defensible process.
- Determine your requirements, including what level of quality you need. This will depend on:
- the purpose of the record and how it will be used (e.g. displaying on a large screen, general business use)
- what the record documents
- any particular elements such as pictures or handwriting that you need to capture
- technical specifications to be used for specific records (if necessary).
- Test the equipment you plan to use to ensure it meets requirements.
- Set a baseline for acceptable and unacceptable characteristics to ensure a consistent level of quality.
- Develop a process to check quality, including when checks should be done (e.g. as each record is digitised, daily, at the end of the project).
After digitisation checks
When checking digitised records, ask yourself:
- have all documents been digitised?
- have all pages been digitised and are they in order? (for multi-page documents)
- has the smallest detail been legibly captured? (e.g. smallest text, punctuation marks)
- are all details and information complete? (e.g. attachments captured, no broken characters, missing segments or information, or cropping)
- has the Optical Character Recognition (OCR) technology adequately captured all of the text in the document? (If used)
- do the colours appear consistent with the original where necessary? (e.g. specific colours or variations, density of solid areas)
If quality control is done manually (e.g. visually), consider training staff who will carry out the checks to ensure it is consistent.
Consider a set time period for quality assurance to be carried out and re-scanning of documents before records are returned to storage or destroyed.
Have procedures in place for re-scanning documents that did not meet quality checks.
Which digitised records to check
You can check:
- all digitised records–this will ensure they all meet the required quality levels
- a representative sample of the digitised records–sampling should include examples of all types of records scanned (e.g. faint writing, typed document, images, detailed and complex records).
You may need to check all digitised records if the originals are particularly detailed, an unusual size, difficult to scan, or contain information near edges of the page.
The metadata attached to the original paper record needs to be captured as part of the digitised records.
You also need to capture event history metadata about digitisation activities.
Some digitisation processing and management software can add information to a digitised record, such as the date or organisation name (e.g. through watermarking or fingerprinting). This information should be captured as event history metadata, not as part of the digitised image. The digitised record needs to be an unmodified representation of the original paper record.
Find out what event history metadata you need to capture.
Find out more about managing digital images.
Consider how the original paper records will be managed after scanning or if they will be destroyed.
You may want to decide on a timeframe that records need to be kept on site before they are returned to storage or are destroyed to allow you time to do quality assurance checks and re-scan any that are not acceptable.
If original paper records are to be destroyed after digitisation, you will need to comply with the requirements and conditions listed in the relevant source records disposal authorisation.
If they are to be kept, the original paper records will need to be managed for their full retention period after digitisation.
Mailroom processing or day-batching involves digitising incoming records, such as mail and forms submitted by customers, as they are received. The digitised record is then used as the official record for business activities.
QSA does not recommended day-batching, however it may be appropriate where:
- the original paper records are eligible for destruction in accordance with the source records disposal authorisation
- quality assurance processes and checks are in place and the paper records are retained until checks have been completed
- it is possible to readily locate individual paper records if required during the quality checking period.
Note: Permanent value original source records cannot be destroyed and will need to be boxed separately before they can be transferred to QSA.
You need to assess the risks and benefits before implementing it in your agency. Consider:
- the type, value, and retention period of the records being digitised
- if and when the originals can be destroyed after digitisation
- how to identify and manage permanent value records that have been digitised
- what quality assurance checks and processes need to be in place.
If the original source records cannot or will not be destroyed after digitisation, you will also need to consider:
- how original records will be organised and stored after digitisation
- how you will manage multiple versions of the same record
- your ability to find and retrieve records if required
- what procedures and processes are needed to sentence records on receipt–for both the digitised version and the original–including how to manage records that can't be sentenced straight away, such as those with a specific disposal trigger
- how long each box would need to be kept–you may need to keep each box of records for the longest retention period applicable to the records
- the additional cost and resources required to store and manage records for possibly longer than necessary
- how and when the records need to be disposed of, including retention periods and disposal triggers
- the risk of records not being destroyed when they should be (e.g. the digitised record is destroyed but the original isn't, where records are legally required to be destroyed after a set period).
You may need to outsource digitising certain record types, particularly if specialist equipment or skills are needed.
Outsourcing digitisation activities has benefits and risks.
Consider what records should be digitised by a service provider, including the privacy and security of information while records are in their custody.
Your agency remains legally responsible for the records while they are in the service provider's custody. You are also responsible for ensuring the provider complies with all requirements specified in the contract or agreement. Make sure it includes general requirements for managing and caring for public records.
Find out more about outsourcing and developing an outsourcing agreement.
Microfilming is an effective, reliable reformatting method for paper records. It can also be an effective preservation method as, if processed and stored correctly, it can be expected to last hundreds of years.
If you are planning on microfilming public records, contact QSA for a copy of the Guideline for best practice microfilming of public records.
- Dispose of source records
- Manage digital images, audio and video
- Find digitisation services and providers
- Assess recordkeeping risk
- Apply metadata to records
- Digital record formats
- How to destroy records
- Identify records with permanent archival, enduring or intrinsic value
- Digital records, storage media and systems
- Preserve digital records
Contact QSA Preservation Services for advice or information about digitisation, microfilming, or identifying particular AV formats.
Contact Government Records Innovation for advice or information about recordkeeping requirements and legislative obligations.