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ROT and Prioritizing Materials for Digitization

books covered in cobwebs
Alyssa Voss headshot

By Digital Archivist Alyssa Voss

When planning to digitize a collection, it’s important to suppress the urge to jump right in and scan everything. Not all items are created equal; some may be more fragile or rare, while others may have greater historical or cultural significance. Prioritizing the materials in your collection can help you achieve your goals effectively and efficiently.

It can be overwhelming to determine which items to digitize first or whether to digitize everything. However, prioritizing your materials will help you to make informed decisions and ensure that the most important items are digitized.

Why Should You Prioritize?

Prioritizing the materials in your collection may seem unnecessary if you plan to digitize the entire collection, but when dealing with a collection, especially a large one, most owners are unaware of the full extent of its contents. For example, a “photo collection” might sound straightforward, but it could contain items like film strips, developer envelopes, or data sheets that add context to the materials within. Taking time to review and sort the collection helps identify which items and materials need to be digitized first and which don’t need to be digitized at all.

Another important reason to prioritize is that some items in the collection may be in worse condition than others and may not last much longer. Digitizing those items first preserves them before the physical versions degrade any further.

Finally, many collections are filled with unnecessary information that does not need to be digitized. This type of information is known as ROT data and digitizing it will only inflate the price of the process and take up an excessive amount of storage space.

Digitizing items in poor condition preserves them before the physical version degrades any further.

What Is ROT?

ROT is an acronym commonly used in the archival field that stands for Redundant, Obsolete/outdated, and Trivial information. This term refers to all information that is not being stored for a valid purpose or adds no value to the collection. The management and removal of ROT is an important aspect of collection management, as it helps to ensure that only the most relevant and valuable information is retained while reducing the clutter and costs associated with storing and managing unnecessary data.

Redundant information refers to data that is duplicated and stored in various locations, resulting in multiple copies of the same information. For example, if you know the organization down the street already has a digital copy of a book in your collection, it might not make sense to digitize your copy right away. This can include photocopies of the original materials or copies of a specific section of information from a larger document. Archivists may keep or digitize one copy of the document and discard the others since the copies are unnecessary and take up valuable storage space.

Obsolete or outdated information is data that is no longer accurate or useful. This type of data may have already been replaced with newer or updated information. Unless your organization is legally obligated to keep outdated copies of a document or they have some historical value, keeping such information in a collection does not provide any benefit or value. It can even cause confusion rather than clarity. When outdated information is included in a collection alongside current and updated information, people may not know which is the correct information. Therefore, archivists need to ensure that outdated information is discarded and replaced with more current and relevant data.

Finally, trivial information has little importance or value to the collection and is not required to be stored. This includes working versions or drafts of documents that have no significance beyond their immediate use. However, use discretion when determining what constitutes trivial information, as some documents that may seem insignificant at first glance may have some sense of importance that becomes apparent over time. Occasionally, archivists may choose to keep trivial information if they believe it has some value to the collection, but this needs to be balanced against the cost of storing and maintaining the data. For example, a collection of personal effects may contain a large amount of ticket stubs or receipts. Scanning each of these would be unnecessary, but you may elect to scan one of each item type to add historical context to the whole of the collection.

How Does ROT Impact Your Collection?

The retention of ROT can lead to increased storage, infrastructure, and maintenance costs, which can burden an organization’s budget. Additionally, it can hinder employees’ ability to respond to discovery requests, comply with regulatory guidelines, and access information quickly. ROT data clogs up servers, making finding specific or relevant information more difficult.

Moreover, retaining ROT data can make the organization vulnerable to various liabilities, including data breaches. Keeping information beyond its legal retention period poses a liability risk, because it can be used against the organization in legal actions or financial audits. It can also increase the time and cost of performing discovery on your data in the event of legal action. Identifying and disposing of ROT data minimizes storage costs, improves organizational efficiency, and reduces legal risks.

What Should You Prioritize?

Prioritizing materials for digitization is a subjective process, and there’s no one-size-fits-all approach. The inherent importance of a document can vary from person to person, depending on their goals and needs. Nevertheless, there are a few common factors to consider when deciding which materials to digitize first. These include the document’s use value, its condition, and the significance of its content.

The use value of a document refers to the frequency in which a document is used and the number of people who use it. If a document is used frequently or by a large number of people, that’s an important factor to consider. Even perfectly intact and undamaged items deteriorate quicker when they’re handled every day. Organizations can ensure that they are digitizing the documents that will provide the greatest benefit to the greatest number of people.

The condition of the document is also an important point of consideration when it comes to prioritizing. Documents in poor condition and at risk of damage or deterioration should be digitized as soon as possible to ensure their preservation and prevent the loss of their contents. The digitization of these fragile documents can make their content more accessible to the public.

Finally, the significance of a document’s content is another factor. Some documents may contain information critical to understanding a particular historical event or era, while others may be significant for personal or organizational reasons. The document’s overall importance to an individual or organization, as well as their goals, should be taken into account. This includes factors such as the document’s cultural or social significance, its relevance to ongoing research, or even its sentimental value to the owner.

Digitization is a powerful tool to help ensure the long-term preservation and accessibility of important documents. Prioritizing the items in your collection is a crucial step in the digitization process. By doing so, you can preserve the items that are in danger of degrading and avoid digitizing unnecessary information, saving you time and money.


Whether you need help prioritizing your collection for digitization or you have prepared a trim list of urgent candidates for the process, Anderson Archival is ready for action. Our collaborative approach ensures that the job is done well and with as little ROT as possible.

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