The effective and secure management of public records is an essential element of the trust that constituents place in the hands of county administrators and government leaders. County government is often responsible for a wide range of public records, from prison records to maps, deeds and sketches, to child protective service agency records.
Longevity and accessibility are two priorities for counties and their “customers.” Storage requirements can vary from county to county, from 3 years to 50 years. To address this need in many places, microfilm/microfiche has been and continues to ensure a stable storage format. While this may seem archaic, many agencies still rely on microfilm.
Take Franklin County with its seat in Columbus, Ohio for example. The county not only uses microfilm, it in fact, has a “Microfilming Board” that meets monthly. What is particularly surprising is that microfilm continues to be their “destination format” for a range of public records including electronic documents. Yes, you read that correctly. According to their annual report, “Electronic images are transferred to microfilm from files received from various agencies, via the county’s network.”
The rationale is “Electronic images downloaded to microfilm reduce the need for costly image migrations due to changing programs or software.” At Image Data, we’re confident that core formats like TIFF, JPG and PDF are here to stay. And, they are “platform-agnostic” – that is to say, they are used across many different enterprise document management solutions. While software or web-based services may come and go, the file formats they manage and access won’t be going anywhere. Pricey image migration is no longer a viable defense for continuing microfilm. Cultural and legislated resistance to change along with funding pressures may be the more likely culprits.
To be fair, while microfilm is their primary archival format, the county appears to perform both electronic and microfilm archiving, the former for access and the latter for long-term secure storage. Still it is surprising that what is now considered a “mid-20th century preservation strategy” continues to hold sway with many county recorders, auditors, sheriffs, treasurers, clerks and other administrators in the age of cloud storage solutions and imaging strategies that are digitally oriented.
Accessibility was mentioned above as the second challenge. Not only is it important for county agencies to have quick access to records, citizens increasingly expect access to documents online, via agency websites. Document management departments, previously preoccupied with scanning to microfilm and printing certified copies, now also have to provide technology infrastructure that enables online search and retrieval of documents. We’ve come a long way from visiting the records counter and waiting patiently as the right film spool was retrieved and loaded. Now, records are indexed and searchable online, reducing the gap between search and access to a matter of seconds.
As county government agencies step back to evaluate a strategic approach to handling a growing volume of documents and records that are increasingly generated from electronic sources, it’s critical that such an evaluation is done with an experienced partner that has a track record of success with county agencies. Image Data has helped numerous county departments take a long-term view and make sound, value-driven decisions about:
- what to do with existing records (conversion of paper, microfilm, and ASCII records for example)
- how to adapt existing document streams for new solutions, and
- how to implement services that ensure 24/7 web-based access to internal and public customers
What is your county agency or department currently using for document management? And, more importantly, what do you want to offer your constituent customers?
Image Data has an extensive track record working with county-level customers who plan to continue on microfilm formats as well as those who need expert insight on migrating to digital. We also work with customers in a hybrid environment like Franklin County. Work with Image Data to identify and implement the best solution for you. Contact us today for a no-obligation evaluation of your county’s needs and objectives.