Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Paperless Record Keeping in the Archive

Discussing the idea of going paperless in an archival setting seems a bit odd to most archival professionals.  After all, the bulk of archival records tend to be paper based in nature, the exception being born digital material and audio-visual collections.

I used to work with a colleague who insisted on printing everything out.  This included emails, instructions on how to fill out online forms, online registration documents, and e-books.  The amount of trees that died as a result of printing born digital material must have equaled a small forest.  Additionally, these printouts were often later misfiled, stuck in a  filing out cabinet never to be looked at again or thrown out upon reading. 

So, can archival documentation and records created as part of the administration of the archive be digital?
Providing a digital records management system is in place and proper tools are used to manage the vast amount of digital content, a paperless documentation strategy is possible.

 Interested in moving to paperless record keeping for administration and documentation?  A few tools I have found extremely helpful include:
  • Zotero as a citation organizer and source collector.  All those grant guidelines and instructions could have easily been stored and sorted using Zotero.  You can also share folders via Zotero, which makes this a great tool for sharing information with colleagues.
  • One of the most frustrating things I've seen is a museum which prints out and sticks in binders all the records they create in their digital database.  It is possible to use drupal or another open source database to document all collections related material.  My work has crafted a custom drupal interface that allows us to handle everything from accessions, transfers, to file level descriptions.  
    • If you don't have tech savvy staff there is also propitiatory software (with support) such as Past Perfect which might suit your organization's collection needs. 
  •  Processing research requests can be done in a paperless environment, however it does take some extra thought.  A lot of the research requests I process are requests made over telephone.  My initial instinct is to write the details down on scraps of paper.  As a result my desk has often looked like a post-it-note minefield. 
    •  I've recently moved to inputting all research requests into a spreadsheet.  The phone sits right next to my computer, make this an easy transition, and allowing for me to capture all relevant information in one spot.  This also helps me keep track of which requests I've processed and provides a place to reference common request answers. 

How does your archive or heritage organization handle administration records and documentation? Which digital tools have you found useful in making the shift to a paperless workplace?

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.  Ebook reader outdoors in sunlight. Stack of books. User Martouf

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