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Exploring the Contrast Between Physical and Digital Document Archiving

Physical archive in disarray

Archives are windows to the past. They can provide evidence, explanations, and context that help us understand past actions and inform the future. Archaeologists have uncovered archives composed of clay tablets that date back to the Bronze Age. These discoveries have been instrumental in the study of ancient languages, literature, and politics.

The practice of document archiving has been around for centuries, but it’s not just about preserving records for history and research. Proper document archiving and management is crucial for any organization to ensure easy access to information whenever the need arises. Document archiving involves storing and managing important documents in a systematic manner. In recent years, this process has become more streamlined and convenient with the transition from traditional physical document archiving to digital archiving.

The switch to digital archiving quickly became necessary for organizations to stay competitive and efficient in today’s fast-paced business world. Digital archiving allows for faster and more efficient retrieval of documents and eliminates the risks associated with physical storage, such as loss or damage. Adopting efficient document management strategies that ensure the safety, accessibility, and organization of your documents is essential for modern-day businesses.

What Is Document Archiving?

Document archiving refers to the systematic storage and management of important documents for long-term use. It involves document arrangement, indexing, and the creation of finding aids for quick and easy access.

An archive’s main objective is to be a long-term storage space for original documents in case they are needed for any reason. It is important to note that only inactive documents or documents no longer in use should be archived. Documents used daily are unsuitable for archiving, as they must be accessed quite frequently. Storing inactive papers is often essential for legal or compliance reasons, but there are many other benefits to preserving and maintaining these documents. When documents are properly arranged, they become easier to access and retrieve when needed, which saves time and keeps costs low. Additionally, the transition to digital archives from physical has enhanced document security and reduced the risk of loss or physical damage. Regardless of the method of document archiving you choose, the process should prioritize the safety, accessibility, and organization of these important documents for future use.

Different Ways to Archive Documents

There are three main methods of document archiving: physical archiving, digital archiving, and the scan-on-demand method. Traditional physical archiving involves storing original documents in archival-quality folders, files, and boxes in a dedicated storage space. While this method is effective, it requires a significant amount of storage space, can be expensive, and does not reduce a collection’s vulnerability to damage or theft.

As the world entered the digital era at the end of the 20th century, so did document archiving. Many of the issues present within traditional physical archiving are resolved with digital archiving. Digital archiving is the process of digitizing physical documents or collecting born-digital files and storing the digital files on a server or hard drive. This method no longer requires a large storage space for the physical collection but does require enough digital storage.

Archiving digitally also improves security, reducing the risks of theft or damage. Maintaining digital copies and ensuring the backups are safe is a much simpler process and less time-consuming than maintaining hundreds to thousands of physical documents. However, the largest advantage of digital archival services may be the easy accessibility and quick retrieval of the digital files. This allows for enhanced productivity and keeps costs low in the long run, making it a beneficial tool for businesses, organizations, and archives of all types.

The last method, scan-on-demand, is essentially a hybrid of physical and digital processes. This method starts by physically archiving the documents, organizing, and storing them in a dedicated space—a process most organizations already have in place. Then, whenever a document is needed, that document is digitized and stored electronically for future use. Typically, scan-on-demand is used by large organizations that only need occasional access to their archive, or groups that know their archives should be both physically and digitally archived but don’t yet have the budget, resources, or time to commit to the full project.

Physical vs Digital Archiving—and the Perfect Marriage of Both

Both physical and digital archiving are essential in the archival world and best support the functions of museums, libraries, businesses, and historical societies when they are deployed together. A digital archive doesn’t necessarily replace a physical one: keeping a physical archive allows documents to be preserved and provides a tangible link to the past, which may be important for key historical documents. Physical archiving also provides a sense of authority and authenticity, as it has been the traditional archival standard for centuries.

Managing physical archives can be time-consuming and requires a significant amount of storage space. For some organizations, digital archiving may be a separate solution that eliminates physical storage in a way that is efficient, easy to access, and reduces the risk of loss or damage, thanks to the easy ability to back up files in multiple places.

Depending on your organization’s goals, you may want to pursue physical archiving, digital archiving, or both. When considering a digital archive’s impact, there are numerous advantages, including easy accessibility, enhanced document security, and lowered costs. However, it can introduce potential vulnerabilities to cyber threats and does require regular maintenance and upkeep. If you need to choose only one method, consider the pros and cons below.

Physical Archiving

  • The traditional standard
  • Does not require technology to access
  • Can serve as a backup in case of technical failures
  • Some industries require “wet ink” copies of legal documents
  • Historical and cultural artifacts are important to preserve
  • Requires significant storage space
  • Vulnerable to natural disasters and wear and tear
  • Difficult to store and transport
  • Prone to damage from environmental factors such as humidity and light
  • Only one copy in existence
  • Limited access due to physical, geographical, and financial factors

Digital Archiving

  • Easy accessibility
  • Enhanced document security
  • Increased search opportunities
  • Accessible for research
  • Simple search for all material
  • Can be backed up and stored in multiple locations
  • Can be accessed by multiple users simultaneously
  • Can be customized and personalized to fit individual needs
  • Non-destructive to fragile items of historical or cultural import
  • Vulnerable to cyber threats
  • Requires regular maintenance
  • Susceptible to technological obsolescence
  • Requires technology to access

How to Set Up a Digital Document Archive

Creating a digital document archive isn’t an impossible task to perform on your own, especially if you have the right tools and pay attention to detail. There are also document archiving services available that can perform this process for you if you prefer to leave it to the professionals. The following are the fundamental and most basic steps of this process that a document archiving service should implement.

  1. Choose the appropriate software and tools that fit your needs. Programs like Google Drive, Dropbox, and Microsoft OneDrive can provide basic storage and retrieval systems that meet the needs of some organizations. More advanced systems called Digital Asset Management systems (DAMs) offer more specialized features to aid in the collection’s arrangement, retrieval, and distribution.
  2. Decide on a folder structure to arrange your files. This will help you to easily find and retrieve documents when needed. A DAM will make this step easier, as those programs can help you build a virtual finding aid that includes a searchable index and catalog.
  3. Digitize your physical documents if you have not already done so. Digitally capture your documents, then upload the digital files into the archive. Be sure to label each document file properly for easy retrieval.
  4. Maintain and update your digital archive to ensure that it remains secure and organized.

Many organizations undertake this process themselves, but outsourcing the process to a document archiving service can deliver a more detailed and professional result.

How to Automate Document Archiving

Automating your digital document archive simplifies the management of your documents. This ensures that you can effortlessly add more documents to your archive in the future. The process automatically categorizes and stores documents based on predefined rules and criteria, such as retention schedules.

Automated archiving offers a range of benefits that can significantly enhance document management and retrieval. By automating the archiving process, organizations can save time and resources while improving the accuracy and security of their data. Technology plays a pivotal role in simplifying these tasks, providing the necessary tools to streamline the archiving process and improve document accessibility and security. By embracing automated archiving, organizations can optimize their document management processes and maximize efficiency and productivity.

How to Pick a Trustworthy Document Archiving Service

If you decide that outsourcing the document archiving process is right for you, you can expect more detailed and professional results as a team of archival experts takes charge of the digital preservation process.

Selecting a trustworthy document archiving service can be overwhelming, especially if you don’t know what you are looking for. There are several factors to consider when choosing a service provider. If you are unsure what to look for in a service provider, a good place to start is to search online for an archival service—a simple approach in the modern era, but an effective one. Although the large number of results can be overwhelming, it can also help you grasp the factors that are particularly important to you. For example, do you prefer a local business, or are you willing to ship your collection to another state? How do you plan on using the archive? What kind of features do you want to implement? Consider asking other trusted organizations or people for their recommendations and experiences with outsourcing this process.

After gathering the information, you need and narrowing down your search, the next step is to ensure that the service provider has a proven track record of delivering quality and reliable archiving services. Try to find online reviews of the service provider or, if possible, reach out to previous clients and ask about their experience. The next step is to check what the provider offers regarding the confidentiality, security, and integrity of your data. Many archival businesses carry out the digitization process at their location. If you are entrusting a business with your collection, it is essential to know their security measures.

Lastly, when outsourcing archival tasks, it is crucial to establish a clear line of communication and set reasonable expectations with the service provider. For the service provider to properly fulfill their job, they must understand the desired outcome and uses of the archive you seek. By considering these factors, as well as your personal factors, you can find a reliable and secure document archiving service to meet your unique needs and requirements.


Anderson Archival’s team of experienced archivists is committed to working with our clients to provide them with a high-quality, carefully constructed archive that functions to fit their needs. We provide various services, including document scanning, digitization, and digital document restoration. Our clients can count on us to deliver high-quality scans that comply with FADGI standards. We also offer a HIPAA-compliant location as well as confidentiality.

Document archiving is a practice that has existed for centuries. It has evolved with the times, as digital document archiving has become a popular method in the modern era. From this detail-oriented process has emerged a wide field of professional and expert teams who can digitally archive your collection for you. These teams can help you with all your archival needs, ensuring that your documents are preserved accurately and efficiently. If you are looking for a reliable and professional document archival service, look no further than Anderson Archival. Contact us today to begin your journey!

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