Minnesota  State Archives

Electronic Records Management Guidelines

Digital Imaging


Government agencies use digital imaging to enhance productivity, provide greater access to certain types of information, and as a preservation option.  Digital imaging offers many advantages, including: improved distribution and publication, increased access, streamlined workflows, and a greatly reduced need for physical storage space.  Digital files made available over the web allow government agencies to provide information to partners or the public quickly and efficiently.  In addition, through the application of optical character recognition (OCR) software, digital images can be used to create text-searchable files which increase access and use. 

While digital imaging is a popular option for access and long-term preservation, it is an investment with potentially very high up-front costs.  Continuing investments in all aspects of an imaging process are also required on a routine and frequent basis.  Digital imaging should make financial sense for your agency.  To assure your digitized records are fully admissible in court, they must be trustworthy, complete, and durable for as long as your approved records retention schedules require.


Legal Framework
Imaging is, by Minnesota state law, a recognized and legitimate form of record reproduction.  Therefore, if the images replace the originals, they are subject to the same legal requirements as the originals.  To ensure such digital records are fully admissible in court, you must be able to demonstrate that the records are complete and were created in a trustworthy manner.  Following record keeping regulations will also assist you in managing your records appropriately.  Legislation varies from state to state, so it is important to research the requirements that may affect your particular digitization project, such as access to the records and disposition of the originals.  Federal, state, local and organizational policies also apply. (More information can be found in the Legal Framework section of these guidelines.)

Government records generally have more requirements to follow than business records.  Laws relating to the “collection, creation, storage, maintenance, dissemination, and access” of government records are common.  Regulations specifically affecting government records usually address such issues as privacy and security, retention and disposition, and public access to information.  To assure that your imaged records are fully admissible and meet all evidentiary standards, you should review the requirements for each law in the Legal Framework chapter of these guidelines as well as the Uniform Photographic Copies of Business and Public Records as Evidence Act.  This Act establishes that an accurate reproduction of a record is as admissible in evidence as the original in any judicial or administrative proceeding.  It further stipulates that if an accurate and durable reproduction is made, the original record may be destroyed in the regular course of business unless its preservation is required by law.


Key Concepts

Before you determine whether digital imaging will meet your long-term legal and operational needs, acquaint yourself with the following key concepts:


Imaging Terms

Digital imaging is a process by which a document or photo is scanned by computer and converted from analog format to a computer-readable digital format.  After scanning, the original document or photo is represented by a series of pixels arranged in a two-dimensional matrix called a bitmap or raster image.  This image can then be kept on a network or transferred onto a variety of electronic storage media, such as DVD, for storage and use.

For a better understanding of imaging you should be familiar with the following terms:

Pixel Bit Depth:  The number of bits used to define each pixel.  The higher the bit depth, the greater the number of tones (color or grayscale) that can be represented.  Digital images can be bi-tonal, grayscale, or color.  In general, higher bit depths are recommended for master images to accurately represent the original document. 

Table 1: Standard pixel bit-depths

  • Bit-depth Displays Recommended for
    1-bit or "bi-tonal" black and white Typewritten documents
    8-bit grayscale 256 shades of gray Black and white photographs, half-tone illustrations, handwriting
    24-bit color Approximately 16 million colors Color graphics and text, color photographs, art, drawings, maps

Resolution:  The quality of a digital image is dependent on the initial scanning resolution.  Resolution is expressed in the number of dots, or pixels, used to represent an image, expressed commonly as “dpi,” dots per inch.  You may also see “ppi” (pixels per inch) and “lpi” (lines per inch) used.  As the dpi value increases, image quality increases but so does the file size.  [“’Lines’ or rows of pixels is a term used within the photographic industry as a common shorthand for the number of pixels across the long dimension of digital images of photographs.”]

To determine the scanning resolution you need, you must first determine the desired quality of your images and the storage capacity of your computer system.  You will also need to consider the desired speed of delivery of the images, especially if they will be accessed over the Internet.  You may want to scan high-resolution masters of your images and then create lower resolution copies for web delivery.  General recommendations for master files are listed in the table below; however, there are many other factors that need to be considered before selecting a scanning resolution such as size and quality of original document and desired results.      

Table 2: Common scanning resolutions for master files

Material Recommended resolution (8-bit grayscale and 24-bit color)
Textual records 400-600 dpi
Photographs, negatives, slides 4000-8000 pixels in long dimension

This is a very simplified chart of common scanning resolutions. For more details review the Technical Guidelines for Digitizing Cultural Heritage Materials: Creation of Raster Image Master Files.

With the large variety of sizes for photographs and photographic material, in order to consistently produce high-quality images, the resolution of photographs is sometimes expressed in the number of pixels across the long-dimension of an image.  When creating standard-sized images from photographs or negatives of differing sizes (e.g., 35mm, 4”x 5”), the scanning resolution in dpi varies.  In such cases, it is often easier to measure resolution as the number of pixels across an image’s long dimension.  For example, each of the following files measures 3000 pixels in the long-dimension, although they have varying values of dpi.  Some experimentation may be required to find the best resolution for different materials being digitized for a project. 

Table 3: Resolution as the number of pixels across the long-dimension of an image

Original photo size Digital image size Scanning resolution
8"x10" 2400 x 3000 pixels 300dpi
4"x5" 2400 x 3000 pixels 600dpi
35mm negative 2400 x 3000 pixels 2100dpi

Information taken from: Maxine K. Sitts, Handbook for Digital Projects: A Management Tool for Preservation and Access (Andover, Massachusetts: Northeast Document Conservation Center, 2000).

Compression:  Compression is the process of reducing the file size of an electronic file, which saves file space.  There are two types of compression, lossless and lossy.  Under lossless compression the file is compressed without the loss of data.  In the process of lossy compression, data is lost as lossy compression attempts to eliminate redundant or unnecessary information.  Depending upon the degree of compression, this information loss may be unnoticeable to the human eye.  For example, it is possible for a JPEG file (a lossy compression) and a TIFF file (lossless) to appear exactly the same, although the JPEG file is missing data, making it significantly smaller.  These file formats, and others, are discussed in the following section.   

Master Images and Access Images: Images created with the intent of replacing an original document will be considered a master image or master copy.  Master copies should be of high quality and follow recommended standards that ensure complete and trustworthy records.  Master copies are not used on a regular basis.  Access images are generally copies of master files whose main purpose is to provide access to users on a regular basis.  There are standards and best practices for access copies as well; however access copies are generally lower in quality resulting in smaller file sizes which allows for easier access. 

Optical Character Recognition (OCR):  A process that translates words in a digital image into machine readable text.  These words can then be used by machines in various ways, including for full-text searching or editing.   


Cost Justification

While digital imaging is popular and commonplace, you must remember it is an investment with potentially very high up-front costs.  You also need to keep in mind that, because of the rapid pace of technological obsolescence, you will need to make continuing investments in all aspects of an imaging process on a routine and frequent basis. 

Digital imaging, as an investment, should make financial sense for your organization or agency.  A comprehensive analysis will help estimate costs and evaluate possible benefits for your agency.  Costs of digital imaging occur during project development, the digitization process, and continue as the digital collection is maintained over time and all must be taken into consideration.  Examples of such costs are listed below. 

  • Project Development: P roject development includes the costs to select, prepare, and catalog the documents that are to be digitized.  Cataloging includes creating or linking any necessary metadata to the original object.  Selection of appropriate hardware and software is also part of this phase.
  • Digitization Process: The digitization process includes creation of a digital image, entering of the metadata, and developing and implementing a system to store the images.  Providing access to the images could be considered part of this process or part of the ongoing costs, as could database creation.    
  • Ongoing Costs: Ongoing costs include the salary and benefits of current and new staff, money for external technical support if needed, additional training costs, maintenance of hardware and software, replacement costs for failed or obsolete equipment or software, vendor contracts, and Internet connections.  These costs continue to occur after the collection has been digitized. 

Benefits of digital imaging include better customer service, higher office productivity, lower storage costs, and the option of using the Web to make digitized information easily accessible.  However, due to the expense associated with imaging, justifying imaging systems based only on potential cost savings is not recommended. 


In-House vs. Outsourcing

One of the first decisions to be made is who will be doing the digital imaging.  Most agencies and businesses do not have the appropriate scanning equipment, software, or staff expertise to execute a large digitizing project.  Evaluation of your resources will help determine if your digitization process should be done in-house or outsourced to a vendor who specializes in digital imaging.

Vendors provide digitizing services, technical advice, and sometimes the long-term maintenance of the resulting files.  Before talking to vendors, be familiar with digitizing technology, the terms used by the industry, and have a clear idea of your project and its goals. 

Some questions to ask include:   

  • How much material will be digitized?  What type of materials will be digitized?  Textual documents?  Photographs?  Maps? 
  • Is there non-public information included in the materials to be digitized?  If so, can the materials leave your site?  What precautions are necessary to ensure the security of the materials? 
  • How much time do you have to devote to digital imaging?  What resources are currently available?  Scanning equipment?  Computers?  Software?  Staff expertise?  
  • What is the physical condition of the materials?  Do they need to be prepared for scanning (removing staples and paperclips)?  Do they have any special handling requirements that would keep them from being outsourced?  Can they be transported easily?
  • What is the required quality of the digital images?  High or low resolution?  Black and white or color? 
  • What is the desired end product?  A document management system?  A searchable online collection?  Who is the intended audience?  Staff members?  Researchers?  The general public? 
  • Why are you digitizing the materials?  What file format(s) fit your requirements?  Do you need both master and access copies?  How will each be created?  And when?  Do the access copies need to be watermarked?
  • What will happen to the original paper documents that were imaged?  Do they need to be kept for any reason?  Local access?  Retention schedules?  If not, how will they be properly disposed of?

When answering these questions you may find that some of the process is best done in-house, while outsourcing other portions is a better choice.  For example, you might choose to do most of the project yourself while outsourcing a few tasks or do a little prep work and outsource most of the project.  As you start evaluating your choices keep in mind the possibility of business failure and the inevitability of product obsolescence.  The best way to protect yourself is to insist on an open-system architecture, using non-proprietary hardware and software.  Non-proprietary means that the chosen hardware and software is not specific to that vendor.  If proprietary software is unavoidable, it should be licensed beyond the length of the contract.  As there will inevitably be some bugs in the system, a contract should completely spell out the provisions for implementation, service, upgrades, and repair.

The Northeast Document Conservation Center highlights issues relating to working with vendors in the preservation leaflet Outsourcing and Vendor Relations including details on how to find a vendor, how to interview vendors, and how to work with vendors.   


File Formats

In any digital imaging project, choosing the file formats you will use is important.  Like scanning resolution, the file format directly affects the quality and file size of your images.  Choosing the best file format for your needs requires knowing the type of materials you will be imaging (e.g., test, art, graphics, photos), how long your images will need to be retained, and how they will be used (e.g., archival or display functions which effects the necessary quality of image and desired speed of delivery of the images).  Master images, in formats such as TIFF, have large file sizes, making their delivery cumbersome for some web and document management system applications.  To enhance the speed of delivery, you can create copy images from the master images.  Derivative images have smaller file sizes, are of lower quality, and typically use a lossy compression.  The JPEG file format is commonly used for copy images. 

Choosing formats that provide access to the greatest number of people over a long period of time is ideal.  General guidelines to follow include using open-source or non-proprietary formats, choosing formats that are widely available and accepted, and using formats that have become standards in the industry. The formats must be stable, well-supported, and well-documented.  The most important concept to remember is overall readability and use.  People must be able to read and use the digital records over time.  Non-proprietary is not always the best solution.  TIFF, for example, is considered an archival standard by many even though the specifications for the file type are copyrighted by Adobe.   However, Adobe has made the comprehensive specifications for TIFF 6.0 public and states that “the goal is that TIFF files should never become obsolete and that TIFF software should not have to be revised more frequently than absolutely necessary.

Compression is another issue that must be considered; you must decide if file compression is acceptable or not.  There are different types of compression, each with its own intended use.  Lossy, loses information during the compression process, such as with a JPEG, while the lossless technique looks identical to the uncompressed file, as with a TIFF file.   In general, for archive or master copies compression is not acceptable as information is lost during the compression process.  Other new methods of compression have recently been developed, including using fractal and wavelet compression.  JPEG 2000 uses wavelet compression and is a method that may allow ‘compressed’ files to be used as archival masters. 

Before a decision is made, you must also determine if there are any enterprise/agency/state guidelines that must be followed.  The Minnesota Office of Enterprise Technology has produced the Enterprise Technical Architecture for the state of Minnesota, a guide that discusses the ideas behind the practices and standards for the state of Minnesota.  “Data architecture describes how the State’s electronic data should be defined, stored, maintained and retained to facilitate processing, accessing, sharing, and analyzing from any part of the enterprise for appropriate constituencies according to existing federal and state laws”.  As is the case with any choice, choosing a file format is just one piece of the puzzle, and you must look at the entire project to see how all the pieces will fit together.  The choice becomes an “attempt to balance the requirements for quality, stability, potential longevity and industry acceptance.”

Common types of digital image file formats include:

Tagged Image File Format (TIFF) files, which are widely usable in many different software programs.  TIFF files utilize lossless compression and are commonly used for master copies.  TIFF graphics can be any resolution, and they can be black and white, grayscale, or color.  TIFF is a very extensible format, allowing variations to be created for specific applications.  Files in TIFF format end with a .tif extension.

Graphics Interchange Format (GIF) files.  GIF supports color and grayscale.  Limited to 256 colors, GIFs are more effective for images such as logos and graphics rather than color photos or art.  It should be noted that although the GIF format is widely used, it is technically proprietary.  A lossless compression, files in GIF format end with a .gif extension.

Joint Photographic Experts Group (JPEG) files.  JPEG is a lossy compression technique for color and grayscale images.  Depending upon the degree of compression, the loss of detail may or may not be visible to the human eye.  Files in JPEG format end with a .jpg extension. 

Joint Photographic Experts Group (JPEG2000) files.   Uses wavelet-based image compression to produce both lossy and lossless digital images.  Lossless images may compete with TIFF files for archival quality masters.  Files in JPEG2000 format use .jp2, .jpf and other file extensions. 

Bitmap (BMP) files.  BMP files are relatively low quality and used most often in word processing applications.  BMP format creates a lossless compression.  Files end with a .bmp extension. 

Portable Network Graphics (PNG) files.  A lossless compression designed to replace GIF files, PNG files can be ten to thirty percent more compressed than GIFs.  PNG is completely patent and license free and is of higher quality than GIF.  Files in PNG format end with a .png extension. 

Portable Document Format (PDF) files.  PDFs are useful for viewing and printing multiple documents and images.  Commonly used to capture, distribute, and store electronic documents, PDF preserves the fonts, images, graphics, and overall “look” of the original digital files.  As with the GIF format, the PDF format is proprietary, although widely used.  Files in PDF often end with a .pdf extension.

Portable Document Format (PDF/A) files. PDF/A, as standard file format for long-term archiving of electronic documents, is a subset of PDF.  Files are 100% self-contained, and do not rely on outside sources for document information.  ISO standard: ISO 19005-1:2005.  

For a more in-depth discussion of file formats and their properties, refer to the File Formats chapter of these guidelines.



Metadata, usually defined as "data about data" is used to describe an object (digital or otherwise), its relationships with other objects, and how the object has been and should be treated over time.   A structured format and a controlled vocabulary, which together allow for a precise and comprehensible description of content, location, and value, are its basic elements.  Metadata often includes items like file type, file name, creator name, date of creation, and the record’s classification under the Minnesota Data Practices Act. 

Metadata is crucial to any digital imaging project, enabling proper data creation, storage, retrieval, use, modification, and retention of your digitized records.  In addition, standardized metadata helps validate the trustworthiness of your system and the legal admissibility of your digitized records in court.  

Metadata is especially important in facilitating retrieval of digital images.  Digital images are stored as graphic files.  Unless you plan to use OCR, the only way to locate specific information will be through its metadata.   Metadata makes it possible to locate, use, and evaluate information through standard search criteria such as subject heading, numerical identifier, or keyword. 

In addition to descriptive metadata assisting with access, preservation metadata captures information that helps facilitate management and access to digital records over time.  Preservation metadata focuses on documenting the provenance, authenticity, preservation activity, technical environment, and rights management of an object.

For more information concerning metadata, refer to the Metadata chapter of these guidelines.


Image Storage

Digital images can be stored online, near-line and offline.  Online storage includes storage area networks (SANS); near-line includes optical jukeboxes; and offline includes removable magnetic, optical, and flash memory media and devices. Where and how you store your images will depend on access needs.  However, it is highly recommended that you store master digital images on media that assure the stored records are tamper-proof, increasing the level of security for the data.

When determining the best storage method, one must consider your institution’s current storage capacity and digital file management system.  Is there enough space for the project at hand, for future projects?  Does your current system work for you?  Are you able to produce, manage, and store back-up copies of the files or will you need outside help?  Are all your files stored in one place or do you have backups offsite?  How often are backups done?  Who is in charge of them?  How are they documented?  Do you have a disaster recovery plan? 

Looking at all of the available storage choices, their benefits and potential problems, it may be hard to determine best practices for long-term storage.  You must study your digital imaging project, determine what is important to your institution, and understand your current and future resources before determining the best storage method. 

Due to the limited life expectancy of digital media, no digital storage medium is adequate for the long-term or archival preservation of records.  The most generous estimate of physical obsolescence is thirty years.  Technological obsolescence, though, will probably come within five to ten years.  As a result, you should assume the need to migrate all your files to a new storage medium on a regular basis.  In the meantime, you will need to protect your stored data with a comprehensive back-up system. 


For more information on digital storage and storage media, refer to the Digital Media and Digital Media Storage chapters of these guidelines.


Preservation Strategies

Once you have decided on a file format and a storage plan, the challenge will be to keep that file accessible and viable.  Digital files are not able to sit on a shelf for decades like paper files could in the proper environment.  The storage medium, file type, and software and hardware used to create and store the file all affects the file shelf life.  Files must be preserved over time to ensure accessibility and use.  The action of preserving digital files must be addressed in any digitization plan and should “involve a number of organized tasks associated with a variety of technical approaches or strategies that ensure digital resources are not only stored appropriately, but also adequately maintained and thus consistently useable over time.

There are three common methods for preservation of digital files: migration/conversion, technology emulation, and technology preservation, of which the first one focuses on keeping the digital material immediately accessible and the last two focus on the technology used to create the digital file.

Establishing a plan for preserving your data is required for any digital imaging project.  The procedures should address many of the issues discussed in these guidelines as well as periodic checks that can help to identify any data loss that may occur over time for quality control and authenticity purposes.  One must also keep up to date on new technologies and standards as they are developed, as they may become useful for future preservation activities. 

For more information on preservation strategies, refer to the Long-Term Preservation chapter of these guidelines.


Retention Schedules and Disposition of Originals

Depending on the purpose of your digital imaging project, you will need to consider what to do with the original files.  Do you preserve them or destroy them?  Was your purpose for imaging to create greater access while preserving the originals or was your purpose to eliminate the paper records altogether?  What are the retention requirements for the records?  Can you legally dispose of them? 

Before disposing of scanned materials, there are several things to first consider.  If you are working with government records, for example, you must first determine if the records have a retention schedule.  All records must be on an approved retention schedule, and you must have the authority to dispose of them before doing so.  If your goal of imaging was to make the digital files the official version of the records and the current retention schedule specifies the paper copy as the official version, you must amend the retention schedule and have it approved by the appropriate authority before the paper copy can be disposed of.  Internal policies should also be updated to reflect this change.  If the records are not listed on a retention schedule, one must be created for them and approved before the records can be disposed of. 

You must also determine the classification of the records you wish to discard.  Is the content of the records public, or is there a level of privacy or security attached to them?  This information should also be covered in the retention policy.  If records contain non-public information, they must be disposed of properly.  At a minimum, sensitive paper records must be shredded; using the cross-cut method is more secure than the strip method of shredding.  For highly sensitive materials, methods of disposal include being “pulverized (rendered into a powder by grinding), macerated (rendered into a pulp by chemicals) or incinerated (burned).”  Secure disposal is usually required for any document that contains private information.  The process of disposal should be written into a digitization plan or policy and should address record types, responsibilities (who is in charge), schedule (time frame) and location (in-house or outside vendor) when the records are to be disposed of.  Risk prevention policies and a paper trail documenting the steps taken will assist you in the worst case-scenario of sensitive documents being improperly disposed of and mis-used.

If you do choose to dispose of the original files, do not be in a hurry to do so.  You will want to be extremely confident that you have the legal authority to dispose of the records.  In addition, you will want to make sure that you have no reason to go back to the paper records.  Complete all of your cataloging, quality checks and indexing on the digital files.  You may find that some of the records are unreadable, or were skipped, in which case you will need to access the paper records to correct this problem. 

If you choose to keep the originals, you should evaluate the storage conditions.  Follow best practices developed for storage environments, including temperature, humidity, and security for each record format. 


Providing Access

Now that you have taken the time, money, and energy to digitize your records, how do you plan on providing access to them?  Who will you provide access to?  What are your terms and conditions for use?  How will you ensure or verify the authenticity or trustworthiness of the records?  How will you secure any non-public content? 

Before determining a method for providing access, it might be helpful to determine how users currently access your records. Analyze the current process, determine if it is a good one, and modify your new access procedures as necessary, especially if providing access to digital materials is new to your institution.  There are many options available, including creating your own custom web interface or using a digital asset management system.

In some cases it might be necessary to restrict access to documents with private or confidential information.  There are a number of ways to do this, including linking access privileges to log-in type (e.g., the public cannot see the records, but staff can), flagging confidential records and having the system filter them out of search results or browsing options, or segregating confidential records so that access is through a separate process.

How will people find the information they are looking for? Will you create an index of the records? Will only certain fields in your database be keyword searchable or will a search be performed over the entire database? Will the documents themselves be searched? If so, do you need to employ optical character recognition (OCR) on them?  Again, there are a number of commercial search tools available, or you may wish to develop one specific to your needs and records.  Look at what others with similar records have done to get ideas.

After people find the information they are looking for from your database or online interface, how do they know that the information they are receiving is authentic, accurate, or trustworthy? A report written about information assurance issues and requirements for the National Archives and Records Administration states that in order to have an authentic and secure environment, policies must address the availability, integrity, authentication, and confidentially of data.  Participants of the Minnesota State Archives led National Digital Information Infrastructure and Preservation Program project created a web page and wrote three white papers that addresses such issues. There are many tools available that help protect your information and computer systems including use of firewalls, intrusion detection systems, file integrity checks, and secure computing technologies such as HTTPS.  Completing a risk assessment of your records and computing environment will allow you to make appropriate, cost-effective decisions.

After the necessary steps have been taken to authenticate the records and establish yourself as a trusted source, it is important to inform people about the terms and conditions of use. Conditions of use inform users of your policies, provenance of the collections, copyright holders, and permissions of use specific to the records of interest. Contact information should also be included if the user requires more assistance. Informing the user of such things shows that you are a responsible curator for the information entrusted to you. This in turn fosters further authenticity of the information and a greater trust in the repository.


Implementation Strategy

To successfully implement a digitizing project in a timely manner, you must create an implementation strategy which manages workflow.  A digitizing project incorporates a myriad of tasks, the successful management of which can save time and money.  While a vendor may be contracted for the project, you will still need to manage an assortment of activities, including the:

  • Selection of materials to be digitized
  • Preparation of materials, including sorting files, removing staples and paperclips, weeding out unnecessary materials, and conservation of any deteriorating documents.
  • Creation of standardized metadata
  • Quality control of source materials and digital images
  • Staff training on new hardware and/or software
  • Advertising, promotion, and user evaluation
  • Long-term maintenance of resulting electronic files

You may also want to…

  • Conduct a cost-benefit analysis to determine the cost justification of a system purchase and to determine the possible benefits to the agency with its implementation. Get upper management support. Your cost benefit analysis must include an annual expense of fifteen to twenty percent of the purchase price for training, upgrades, maintenance, and storage.
  • Conduct a records and workflow analysis to determine and document existing and planned agency information needs.
  • Provide specific plans for an ongoing process of migrating long-term and archival records from older to newer hardware and software platforms. 
  • Assign a permanent staff member as systems administrator and require the vendor to provide a project director during the installation and training periods.


When researching hardware, software, and other technologies…

  • Consider data storage requirements, document scanning throughput rates, and the accurate reproduction of the image.  Select systems that provide enough scanning resolution to produce a high-quality image that is at least as legible as the original record. Validate the quality of the image by testing with actual documents.
  • Use an indexing database that provides for efficient retrieval, ease of use, and up-to-date information about the digital images stored in the system. Incorporate metadata to facilitate records management.   
  • Seek vendors who use standard rather than proprietary compression algorithms and file headers to make migrations of data more certain and reliable. If vendors use proprietary algorithms, they must be able to demonstrate their capacity to bridge to standard compressions and file headers.

When it comes time for implementation…

  • Establish operational practices and provide technical and administrative documentation to ensure the future usability of the system, continued access to long-term records, and a sound foundation for assuring the system’s legal integrity. Documentation should include information on hardware and software, including brand names, version numbers, dates of installation, upgrades, replacements, and conversions; operating procedures, including methods for scanning or entering data; revising, updating, indexing, backing up; testing the readability of records; applying safeguards to prevent tampering and unauthorized access to protected information; and carrying out the disposition of original records.
  • Determine which records you want to capture and manage digitally and if back-file records will be included. Review general and agency specific retention and disposal schedules, and dispose of documents that the agency is not required to retain.
  • Determine if the records are adequately organized. Make certain that the records were properly filed and correct all mis-filings before imaging.
  • Digitize in phases, beginning with the most highly used records first.
  • Institute procedures to ensure quality and integrity of scanned images. Include visual inspection in your operational procedures to verify the completeness and accuracy of the scanning process both in the initial digitization process to magnetic media and when the image is converted to the records storage medium.
  • Incorporate retention and disposal of electronic images and electronic records into agency retention schedules.
  • Use non-rewritable recording media to preserve record integrity. Provide adequate environmental conditions for digital storage media. Label digital media, tapes, and other storage containers with particular care since it is impossible to determine content merely by looking at the storage medium.
  • To retrieve information in records that will be held for many years, you must develop and document indexes with both today’s and tomorrow’s users in mind. Design backup procedures to create security copies of digitized images and their related index records.
  • Verify that a disaster preparedness plan is in place to facilitate image and data backup, storage and recovery. For more information on disaster preparedness see the Minnesota State Archive’s online resources for Disaster Preparedness.  
  • Annually sample 3% of both the working and  security copies of the digital records and indexes to make sure the data are still readable. Prepare an appropriate plan for “refreshing” data and migrating and converting images and corollary indexes to new storage media as needed.

Your implementation strategy may include setting up a pilot project.  A pilot project will allow you to test the technology, examine the effectiveness of your digital images in providing and managing information for patrons or employees, and help determine how you can better implement a digital imaging system.  A pilot project is especially necessary to study the impact and effectiveness of imaging before undergoing a large digitizing project for a whole department or organization. 

Phases are an effective approach to implementing large digitizing projects.  Rolling out the system in phases enforces an organized and careful approach to implementation.  This allows small errors to be caught and corrected before they snowball into large and costly issues.  Phases can be applied in several ways depending upon the structure of your organization and scope of your project.  For example, you may want to phase in the system by departments or by function.  If your project will be implemented over a lengthy time period, you may want to phase in your system beginning with your organization’s highest priorities. 


Key Issues to Consider

Now that you are familiar with some of the basic concepts of digital imaging, you can use the questions below to discuss how those concepts relate to your agency. Pay special attention to the questions posed by the legal framework, including the need for public accessibility as appropriate, completeness, trustworthiness, and legal admissibility.  Consider the resolution and delivery requirements of your digital images, and choose the file formats and digital storage media that will best fit your needs.

The goal is to determine the best option for your agency that meets your legal and operational needs, not merely to automatically upgrade technology.  If you cannot justify the costs of digital imaging, keeping your records in their original form may be the best option.  


Discussion Questions

  • What are our goals for digital imaging?
  • How is our agency affected by the legal requirements?  Are the records public?  Are there security requirements?
  • What is the desired end product?  A document management system?  A searchable online collection?
  • What type of materials will be digitized?  Textual documents?  Photographs?  Maps? 
  • What is the required quality of the digital images?  High or low resolution?  Black and white or color?
  • What file formats and digital storage media will best fit our needs?
  • What metadata is necessary for each file?  Is it readily available or do we need to spend time gathering that information?
  • What are some strategies for implementing our digital imaging project?
  • Are we able to do this in-house?  Do we need to outsource some or all of the processes?
  • How will we provide access to the digital records?
  • How long do we need to keep the digital files?  What is our long-term preservation plan?  What do we do with the original documents? 
  • Can we justify the costs of digital imaging?



Digital Imaging, Annotated List of Resources  go to Annotated list of resources

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Electronic Records Management Guidelines, March 2012, Version 5.

Links verified December 9, 2014.