digitising archival documents
| | Jim Cohen

Digitising Archival Documents: Empowering Government and Councils Through Modernisation

The significance of archival records and the path to modernisation for Government and Councils

Archival documents serve as a vital link to the past, providing us with a window into historical events, decisions, and the wisdom of our predecessors. In the context of Government Departments and Regional/City councils, the importance of archival records cannot be overstated, as they play a crucial role in preserving the legacy, heritage, and institutional memory of these organisations.

In this article, I explore the significance of archival documents and the challenges that Government and Local Councils face to manage and access these valuable records. I’ll also explore a modern solution to these challenges, specifically focusing on digitising archival documents. Digitisation has the potential to revolutionise the way these documents are digitally preserved and utilised.

 

Importance of archival documents

Archival records can be categorised into two primary groups based on their value and significance:

1. Documents with inherent cultural and heritage value

These are documents that hold cultural and heritage value due to their age, origin, and intrinsic qualities. For example, original letters dating back to the early days of an area, such as the original Angus and Robertson letters and ephemera dating back to the 1800’s. These are rare artefacts with historical significance. In such cases, the value lies not just in the content but also in the physical item itself.

2. Documents with Historic Content

In contrast, some documents are historically important due to their content, even if the physical artefact may not necessarily have inherent value. This category may include materials like newspapers, books, and minutes of meetings. The content of these documents provide critical insights into the past and often represents the only factual account of events and discussions.

The significance of the latter category of archival documents lies in their content, as they serve as valuable references for various purposes, including fact-checking, research, and understanding the “who, what, why, and how” of historical events or decisions.

 

Challenges faced with archival documents

Despite the importance of archival records, various challenges arise in their management and accessibility. These challenges can be multifaceted:

1. Storage

Properly storing archival documents is a challenge in itself. Organisations must invest in suitable storage solutions to preserve these documents. However, the location and conditions of storage can create new challenges, such as maintaining correct climate conditions and security concerns.

2. Access

Even if archival materials are well-preserved, gaining access to them can be cumbersome. Many archival materials are stored in secure, controlled environments, which can hinder easy access. Research into a matter or topic can be time consuming using the physical documents or in some cases not available. Even when data relating to the topic is found, the researcher will never know if that is the only reference or if there are other additional references. To eliminate this risk it is necessary to painstakingly read through all of the content.

3. Preservation

Frequent access to physical archival documents can lead to wear and tear, potentially causing irreversible damage. In addition, managing the safe return of records is stressful and a tangible risk. The time-consuming nature of manually sifting through reams of paper documents further complicates their use, and each document can only be accessed by one individual at a time.

 

The solution to archival challenges

The key to overcoming these archival challenges lies in the modernisation of document preservation and access. Digitising archival documents offers a comprehensive solution to the issues mentioned. Here’s how:

1. Transfer of Storage

Depending on the type and classification of records, once the archival records have been digitised, they can be accessioned to State Archives for long term preservation. Archives have the appropriate storage measures in place and by transitioning custodianship, the local storage challenges are overcome. Digitising archival documents saves money on storage costs, infrastructure costs and labour costs.

2. Accessibility

Digitised archival documents can be checked out for the scanning process and then checked back into the repository. Scanning and indexing archival documents ensures that critical information is just a click away, by accurately linking scanned records to the enterprise EDRMS enables easy accessibility with appropriate security measures in place. Digitising archival documents facilitates quick word searches and viewing, significantly reducing the time and effort required for research. Collection material information can be cross referenced to further enrich the data linked to the artefacts.

3. Digital Preservation

Digitising archival documents preserves their content without causing damage to the physical items. Experienced scanning service partners can ensure that the scanned images are of high quality and digitally replicate the original documents accurately.
By limiting physical access to the original documents after scanning, there is less risk of overuse, damage or non-return. Digitising archives protect and preserve digital archival masters for posterity, ensuring that future generations can benefit from their historical insights.

 

Archival documents are a valuable resource for governments and councils, providing historical context and factual records of important decisions and events. However, managing and accessing these documents can be challenging.

Digitising archival documents offers a modern solution that addresses these challenges by preserving the content, enhancing accessibility, and protecting the originals. Embracing digital archives not only ensures the safety and longevity of these invaluable documents but also facilitates efficient research and reference for government and council operations.