Counties and other Government agencies that handle public records either have, or are in the process of going digital. That is they are taking physical documents such as microfilm, microfiche or aperture cards and converting them to digital formats such as image files or pdfs. In fact most agencies have been fully digital for several years. The reason for this is obvious, handling, storing, managing, retrieving and updating digital documents is far more efficient than physical documents.
Yet, another trend is emerging where government agencies such as counties and states are taking these digital records and converting them to “eye readable “formats such as microfilm. In other words, they are now keeping both a digital version and a physical version of a record. At first glance, this seems like a wasteful, unnecessary redundancy. But one needs to consider the situation that a government agency that handles public records faces.
Agencies are legally obligated to protect the data that they collect. That means preventing any information from being stolen, lost or corrupted, indefinitely! The legal liability and moral obligation for this is significant. Can you imagine the consequence if the Federal Government lost all Social Security data?
Now consider the risks for storing and maintaining digital information:
Human Interaction: Even when the format is digital, human error comes into play, often human error with digital records has far more catastrophic consequences the with physical records. The other issue to be concerned about is a trusted employee willfully sabotaging the documents. Many of the notorious hacking incidents have involved “inside help” from disgruntled or greedy employees.
Technical Issues: Servers crashed, hard drives fail, storage devices get corrupted, many times a specialist can go in and recover the data, but that is not guaranteed. Government agencies will keep several copies of digital records.
Storage Media: In the last 15 years storage devices have used 5 ¼ floppy discs, 3 ½ disks, DVDs, Solid State Drives and flash drives. How would you view the data if someone handed you a floppy disk? As technology changes, data needs to be transferred or it could be lost.
Software and Technology changes: Software programs such a Microsoft Word or Microsoft Excel are always evolving with some backward compatibility, ie the latest version of word will be able to read and work with an earlier version. However there is no guarantee that backward compatibility will extend back through all revisions. What happens to older records when the software that created the file is obsolete?
What is the best course of action for an agency if losing data is not an option at any cost? What would be the consequences if the federal government’s social security data was lost? The expectation is that the government should never allow this to happen.
So how does one realize the efficiency of digital records while putting in backups that guarantee enough redundancy to never have an issue? It appears the answer is to manage day to day with digital, but in addition to having redundant digital storage, creating and keeping non-digital formats such as microfilm for archiving. This provides another layer of safety that gives some in Government confidence that losing its records will never be an issue. Microfilm will last over 500 years and has already proven to be a reliable medium since it has been in practical use for over 80 years.
Microfacs has the equipment and expertise to rapidly convert your digital documents back to microfilm.