(from Maine Townsman, August/September 1999 )
by James Henderson, Maine State Archivist

Managers in both the public and private sectors are often confronted with inducements to scan records as a solution to a wide variety of problems. Usually these pressures arise from vendors, but the influential digital culture and the desire to not be left behind the technological curve are powerful forces as well. As one might expect, one solution does not fit all problems.

"To scan or not to scan" might well be the question of the moment, but it should not be. The more important question is, "What problems may be addressed by changes in records management practices?" The conversation that flows from that question will lead to options that include the appropriate media on which to store and manage program records.

Overall, the following topics should guide that conversation:

• Clarification of Program Goals and Performance Standards.

• Review of Program Process.

• Evaluation of Program Performance.

• Options for Records Storage and Retrieval.

• Selection of Storage and Retrieval Systems.

• Implementation of Systems.


A focus on program goals, or desired outcomes, is critical to selecting the appropriate management options. In an era of performance budgeting, accomplishing defined outcomes at minimum cost is essential. It’s not the number of applications filed that counts; it’s how efficiently the customer is satisfactorily served.

Goals might be to provide access to vital records, issue or deny building permits, approve or deny subdivision proposals, collect taxes, maintain minutes of meetings, monitor financial transactions, hold and track human resource files.

Performance standards might be to:

• Provide access to requested records within 15 minutes/90% of the time.

• Issue permits within one week of application/90% of the time.

• Identify 90% of improperly documented transactions within 2 days.

• Update human resource records and make them available to qualified users within 24 hours of any change/90% of the time.

The problem should be expressed in terms of performance standards. Are certain standards not being met? Which standards? Is the cost of meeting certain standards too high?

With this background, one can assess the process that seeks to achieve the performance standards, and consider potential changes to that process.


Understanding who uses the program records, and their information and access needs is important in assessing the current process and anticipating records management options.

Who uses the records: the public, other departments (legal, audit, management), other governments, certain professions or businesses?

What are their information needs: full image of the record, selected information contained in the record, all records or selected records?

What are their access needs:

• How frequently is access requested for a group of records?

• What is the probability than any one record will be retrieved within one year after its initial business use has ended?

• By what criteria is access requested (name, date)? Are other options available?

• How quickly is access needed(elapsed time for retrieval)? Why is rapid access necessary? What is the cost of delaying several minutes, an hour, a day?

• How long is access needed (duration of use)?

• Do several people need access at the same time? Can this be sequenced?

• Must copies be produced? How many? Are there other options?

Administrative Practices

Current administrative practices should be reviewed as a benchmark for potential changes in workflow and/or management of program records. Some questions to be addressed include the following:

• How are requests received: phone, mail, FAX, e-mail, in person?

• How long are the records scheduled to be kept to serve the program’s business needs?

• How long are the records scheduled to be kept to serve other agency business needs?

• In what order are the records maintained: alphabetical, sequential, date, subject?

• What resources are now allocated to support the program?

– Budget (amount).

– Staff (number).

– Training (level).

– Equipment (type).

– Space for operations and storage.


Improvement in performance and/or cost reduction may be possible after reflecting on the current process, why it exists, what might change, and what a reasonable vision of success might be.

Why are current practices performed?

• Always done that way.

• Required by law, rule or policy.

• Most efficient way to achieve goals.

• Required by customers (internal and external).

• Limited by available equipment, training.

What should be changed?

• Eliminate duplicate copies of forms.

• Minimize the information collected to what is essential.

• Create a customer convenient space for reviewing records.

• Clarify access expectations: hours, information needed.

Specifically, how would these changes address the identified problem?

Factors Affecting Storage/Retrieval System Selection

Certain factors related to program goals and process provide the basis for selecting among a variety of storage and retrieval systems. The primary factors are listed below:

• Volume of records in relation to office space available.

• Frequency of access requests.

• Elapsed time to obtain access.

• Frequency of multi-user requests.

• Security requirements.

• Retention requirements.

• Cost of capture, storage and retrieval.

The storage and retrieval options range from the simplest and very inexpensive to the most complex and expensive.

• Retain in office space in filing equipment.

• Retain in office space on open shelving.

• Place in storage area outside the office.

• Convert to microfilm, destroy originals.

• Convert to digital images, destroy non-archival records.

Reducing Volume of Records

To simply reduce the volume of records to save storage space, several inexpensive, low to moderate cost solutions exist.

Very Low Cost: Apply records retention schedules strictly or amend the schedules to reduce retention, thus storage requirements. 100,000 pages fit in approximately thirty one-cubic-foot boxes. Annual accumulations kept for ten years would take 300 cubic feet of space for continuous storage. Reducing retention to eight years would save 60 cubic feet of storage space continuously.

Low Cost: Store infrequently referenced records outside the office. The cost to store 3,000 pages (one cubic foot) of records at the State Records Center is less than two-tenths of a cent per page (image) or about $6.00 per box. Over ten years the cost is about two cents per image per year or $60! This storage requires no document preparation (removal of staples, clips, etc.) and no technology maintenance or upgrades.

Moderate Cost: Microfilm infrequently referenced, long-term records; destroy originals. The cost to microfilm 3,000 images is approximately four cents per image ($120) with an annual storage cost of approximately fifty cents per box of film holding 3,000 images. Total cost for ten years: $125, with little technology maintenance.

High Cost: Scan frequently used, short-term records; destroy originals. Expect cost to be high, however, it will vary depending on equipment used.

Selection and Implementation Checklists

The following rules of thumb and checklists should be helpful in evaluating the options available for your particular records problem. If you have done an analysis and would like some "outside review," feel free to contact the Records Management Services Division of the Maine State Archives. We can’t do it for you, but can provide some advice as time allows. Call Nina Osier at 287-5799, e-mail