PAWDOC: Archiving

For the first fifteen years of using the PAWDOC system, I didn’t have the capability to scan documents or to manage electronic documents. Hence, in those years the filing system was oriented around hardcopy which is inherently bulky when it builds up over time. It wasn’t long before I ran out of space in the upright filing cabinet next to my desk and I was forced to select a subset of documents to put in boxes and store elsewhere in my office. As time went by I began to run out of space for the archive boxes, so I started putting the oldest ones into the company store.

Over this period I established an archiving routine and honed it until I had got it down to a standard procedure. I used a field in the Index to record when I accessed a document, and if there was no entry in that field I considered that document to be a candidate for archiving. I also put an indicator in the Index when a document was archived so that I knew where to look if I needed it. In the same way that documents were stored in the filing cabinet in Reference Number order, the archive documents were also stored in the boxes in Reference Number in order to provide a reliable way of finding an archived document.

When I got a scanner and a Document Management System in 1996, my modus operandi changed. I started to scan every new document as I included it in the PAWDOC system at the same time as attempting to scan the huge backlog of hardcopy documents. After each scan I took a decision as to whether to destroy the hardcopy or to keep it – and more often than not I chose to destroy it. This then was a significant turning point when archiving was replaced by digitising. Of course, the digital route was still not that straightforward because computer systems were relatively slow, and digital storage  was limited and expensive. However, as time went by and technology improved these shortcomings were minimised. Today, it’s possible to buy a memory stick with sufficient storage for the whole of the PAWDOC collection – a lifetime of work documents – for less than £15.

Today there is still a need for hardcopy documents, but only for special or working documents. Digital versions are sufficient for the bulk of a personal collection. Consequently, there is no longer a need for bulky and growing sets of hardcopy material, and no longer a need to do any more archiving.

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.

Q31. Is it necessary to archive paper documents?

2001 Answer: Experience gained: It is only necessary to archive paper documents if:

  • You cannot scan them
  • You have not got enough space for the artefacts you want to keep in their original form.

2019 Answer: Fully answered: For paper-based collections, archiving was essential unless one had a very, very large office or study. However, digitisation now provides a store of virtually unlimited size, and, in my experience, only a very small subset of documents will be deemed to be sufficiently significant or unusual as to require being kept for the long term in both hardcopy and digital form. These subsets of precious hardcopy should be small enough to be kept in the average office or study. In practice, therefore, with modern systems, archiving is no longer necessary.

Q32. If it is necessary to archive, how do you do it and how long does it take?

2001 Answer: Fully answered: Implement a ‘date last accessed’ facility, whereby whenever an index entry reference number is accessed (to obtain the hardcopy or electronic document) you automatically record the current date. Archiving can then be performed on those index entries that have no date in the `date last accessed’ field. The whole process of using the index to select items to be archived, marking the selected index entries as `archived’, removing the items from the physical file and boxing them up takes approximately two minutes per item archived (Wilson 1992b: 2.10).

2019 Answer: Fully answered: With modern systems, I believe there is no longer a need to archive. However, if I did have to do so, I would probably use the method I developed in the 1980s and 90s – maintain a Date Last Accessed field and use that to identify documents I’m not using and which can therefore be digitised and/or archived.

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