Across the country, many government agencies face a similiar issue: They have mountains of physical documents taking up tons of space, but no way to reliably search and store them easily, or necessarily keep them safe. This is a unique situation presented for organizations with years, decades or even centuries worth of physical documents, and digitization is often the key to unlocking the full potential of a long-standing archive.
In New Hampshire, for instance, the state government has no real digital archiving system in place, and according to the state's archivist, Brian Burford, it's a real issue for a number of reasons, according to the Concord Monitor. First and foremost, New Hampshire has no laws in place that require elected officials to turn over email communications, so most don't, creating a gap in the state's historical record.
The real issue
However, as an archivist, Burford's concerns are two-fold, the report said. Even beyond the historical record, the fact that everything has to be processed with paper documents, which then gets digitized in a kind of piecemeal approach, creates issues, the report said. The state does have many years' worth of documents digitized, but it's neither all in one place nor all on one format; some are on CD-Rs, others on floppy disks, and even punch cards from the 1970s.
A security issue?
In Pennsylvania, physical records that go missing – after having been stolen or given away without authorization – have been showing up online for purchase, presenting a security issue for the state as well as individuals or businesses whose information might be in those records, according to the Allentown Morning Call. Many of these records have some historical value. The state has tens of millions of historical documents, many of which haven't even been inventoried despite recent efforts to do so.
"A lot of records, they appear on eBay," Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission spokesman Howard Pollman told the newspaper. "And we have no legal recourse to say, 'Hey don't sell that, that's ours.'"
When states or other government organizations are trying to get a better handle on their document management, adopting a digitization platform and strategy will often help them achieve their goals on an ongoing, long-term basis.