Just scan it! (?)

Expert: It would take hundreds of years to digitize records at Seattle National Archives: https://mynorthwest.com/1736786/seattle-national-archives-records-digitization/?fbclid=IwAR2IqZpRLjYOQ9QiOqtd6brFf85rlL96W93dx02nuzKM5unE4PaFbKHSgqk

My thoughts: 

First, apparently the archival collection in question is facing relocation, and the digitization proposal looks like a salvage operation aimed at getting something done before the records are buried even deeper in another facility. Institutions poised to receive collections really are on the front line of saving what could otherwise be lost, or buried in an undescribed or under-described deep-storage situation.  Maybe this is indicative of a trend toward larger, better funded, more capable repositories at the federal level?  Perhaps also in other settings?  For example, Perkins/SMU just received a large United Methodist archival collection from a closing sister institution.  https://www.smu.edu/Perkins/News/News_Archives/Archives_2021/2021-Methodist-Museum .   As institutions face space and budgetary contractions, other capable institutions who can acquire collections seem to be be doing so.  If not, I suspect the materials are parceled out at auction or otherwise dispersed (especially for small, local  museums).  

Second, I like Rencher’s straightforward, facts-based approach.  Simply put, folks who say ‘just scan it’ betray their lack of understanding of several critical aspects of the issues (see 3 and 4)  

Third, taking a cue from Rencher, here are some rough estimates for the ACU archival collections.  We have about 6000 linear feet of archival materials in the Center for Restoration Studies Collection (over 500 sets of papers ranging in size from a folder or two to 125+ boxes, each).  Linear feet/cubic feet distinction really doesn’t matter much here, because we are talking about a banker’s box of paper either way.  Our 6000 feet translates into about 12,000,000 pieces of paper, photos, etc.  Rancher’s example of one person operating one scanner for a full ‘camera year’ renders our collection fully digitized in 24 years, or the close of the academic year 2046.  That is, if we do not receive another item, and that does not count books, periodicals, tracts, or other print or A/V materials.  A/V materials require 1:1 conversion time, that is, a 30 minute tape needs to play for 30 minutes so it can be digitally captured with the equipment we have.  2046 also assumes perfect scanning conditions, with smooth prep, get-it-right-the-first-time, quality control baked into the process, no rescanning, getting file names right (and scalable).  So, start with the first collection today and in May 2046 we will be finished.  (Add another 24 years for the 6000 linear feet of University Records we currently hold).

Fourth, the article does not touch the hem of the garment in terms of digital degradation, the ancillary costs of supervisory time and equipment (especially if we scale up with additional scanners, which will wear out in time), conservation (if we choose to do any at the point of digitization), digital storage for that amount of data the scanning will generate (redundant and secure physical and cloud-based storage, in perpetuity), and the time and expertise necessary for some kind of metadata description, not to mention public access in some kind of online repository (which includes additional upload and description time).

I could go on and on, but I thought it might be useful to think aloud about this in terms of what we have in our collection.

Now, this might seem so gloomy.  I don’t intend that, but I think it helps to put facts against perception.  In this case, the perception that everything will be (or should be) scanned is not often rooted in a realistic understanding of what must happen to make that possible.