PAWDOC: Deciding what to file

Most types of things can be managed in a digital filing system. Documents, brochures and books can be either scanned or photographed; electronic documents are, of course, already in the right form; and even physical artefacts such as, for example, art works, can be photographed.

Once it’s been decided to establish a filing system, the reasons why the items concerned are being kept, and what is going to be done with them, should be written down. This should help in defining the following three key points: i) how long items are to be kept for; ii) whether any physical originals are to be retained after they have been digitised; and iii) whether every item is to be filed or just a particular subset. Point iii) is important because, if only a subset is required, the amount of time and effort that will be spent on adding items to the filing system, and managing it, will be reduced. Against this time saving must be weighed the extra effort – and potential errors that may be made – in deciding whether each particular object is to be included or not. Conversely, collecting every instance of a type of an item makes life easy and requires no decision making.

If the filing system is to replace or augment an existing collection, a decision must be taken about whether to exclude the existing items, or to undertake ‘backfile conversion’ to include some or all of them in the digital collection. Backfile conversion is often a lengthy and tortuous process and can act as a drag on proceeding with the new system; therefore, it should be avoided at all costs. If, however, it is thought to be needed, the reasons for doing it should be clearly understood before proceeding.

Specific questions relating to this aspect are answered below. Note that the status of each answer will fall into one of the following 5 categories: Not Started, Ideas Formed, Experience Gained, Partially Answered, Fully Answered.

Q5. What types of information and media can be managed by an electronic filing system?

2001 Answer: Fully answered: Just about anything can be managed by an electronic filing system including single sheets and stapled sets of hardcopy documents, scientific journals, volumes of bound material, ring binders, books, 35 mm slides, videos, electronic files and e-mail messages.

2019 Answer: Fully answered: Any kind of item can be managed by an EFS – though it may be necessary to also keep the original physical artefact to experience the full impact of certain types of items such as specially folded brochures, or significant documents with a tactile presence. Types of items that I have succeeded in managing in the PAWDOC collection include hardcopy documents, ring binders, books, journal papers, magazines, brochures, overhead slides, flipchart pages, CAD/CAM drawings, photos, videos, web pages, and email messages.

Q6. Can all types of electronic files be managed in an electronic filing system?

2001 Answer: Partially answered: Yes, certainly all types of application files can be. I have not stored executable files yet but have been advised that it can be done and how to do it.

2019 Answer: Fully Answered: Any types of file format – including executables – can be managed in this way. For example, file types in the PAWDOC system include Word, Excel, Powerpoint, PDF, TIFF, JPG, MP4, MPP, ZIP, and HTML. However, the real issue is whether you will be able to open them in future years if the particular application programmes are lost or not kept up to date. For this reason, it may be worthwhile converting some files to more common formats, such as PDF, before storing them. In the future, these so-called ‘Digital Preservation’ issues may get addressed automatically by AI programmes.

Q7. What criteria should be employed when deciding what to file?

2001 Answer: Not started

2019 Answer: Fully Answered: Individuals should file as much or as little information as they think they will need in their jobs – otherwise they will not have the motivation to spend the time introducing new material and managing the filing system. If a robust, all embracing, file facility is available within a particular system (such as in many electronic mail systems) such systems should be used to their full capability (i.e. retain everything up to any limitations set by the system administrator). Inevitably, whatever an individual decides to file, there will always be some material which is never subsequently accessed, and there will always be some required information that can’t be found in the system. This seems to be a regularly occurring phenomenon and should not deter individuals from filing – though they may influence the filing criteria that an individual applies over time.

Q8. Is it worth doing backfile conversion?

2001 Answer: Experience gained: Backfile conversion is certainly not essential, and is probably not worth doing, except for material you definitely want to keep for many years.

2019 Answer: Fully Answered: Backfile conversion usually takes a huge amount of time and effort, so a detailed analysis should be undertaken before deciding whether to do it or not. Alternative approaches to dealing with the old items should be investigated. Backfile conversion should only be carried out if there are compelling reasons for doing so.

Q9. What are the major considerations when carrying out backfile conversion?

2001 Answer: Experience gained: Backfile conversion requires a huge amount of time and effort and is not to be undertaken lightly.

2019 Answer: Fully Answered: Considerations to be taken into account when conducting backfile conversion include:

  1. Ensure the physical backfile material does not interfere with any space required by the replacement filing system.
  2. Decide if any of the backfiles being converted will need to be retained in their original form and, if so, define clear criteria for selecting which ones to keep.
  3. Decide what quality the converted backfiles need to be and then put in place the appropriate equipment, software and procedures to achieve that quality.
  4. Decide how users will be informed of which backfiles have been converted and which are yet to be converted.
  5. Establish a clear and doable schedule for the conversion process.
  6. Put in place motivational aids for sticking to the schedule. For example, setting a target of a certain number of conversions each day; and creating a visible progress sheet on which achievements can be ticked off.

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