Preserving the past: How scanning saves our nation’s history

A nation’s stories live on through their texts and images, but only as long as people can view and read them. Historical documents such as archives and records have an intangible value to the very fabric of our society, and that’s why scanning and digitisation are vital in preserving the history of Australia. Considering there are millions of records, photos, archives, files and documents that must be digitised, the preservation of the past is not for the faint-hearted.

As professional digitisation experts, we follow the recommended paper preservation and digitisation guidelines as set by the National Archives of Australia (NAA). These strict guidelines ensure the accurate capture of a document or image. As a government-approved digitisation provider, we also take every measure to protect the integrity of the originals and return them in the same condition we received them.

Even though our nation’s most important documents are stored correctly and safely in some of the best archive facilities in the world, professional digitisation is the only way to guarantee access for future generations. Here’s why.

Destined to Fade

Photographs, negatives and documents inevitably fade when exposed to light and oxygen. Just as our skin can get damaged from sunlight and pollutants, the pigments in ink are damaged when exposed. Photographic prints contain a specific type of ink with a light-absorbing body called chromospores. Over the years, the amount of light absorbed by these chemical compounds will break down the chemical bonds of the picture dye, resulting in colour degradation.

As for paper, old pen ink can suffer a similar fate, explaining why text can be almost illegible on very old documents. Then there’s the natural breakdown of the paper itself. Obviously, paper is made from wood which naturally contains a dark substance called lignin. The exposure of lignin to air and sunlight is what turns old paper yellow. Paper itself is a naturally fragile material, easily torn and destroyed.

The process of digitisation not only preserves documents and images for generations to come, but allows multiple views without overhandling and, if needed, digital enhancement for improved legibility.

Faded image                                                      Corrected digital image

Superior Resolution

There’s a big difference between a high-resolution scan and a basic one. Professional digitisation scanners accurately capture images and documents with the highest possible pixels per inch. This results in the clearest and sharpest possible digital version of the scan. As historical photographs and texts can be faded or fragile to begin with, scanning at high resolution is essential for ensuring every single detail is captured for both posterity and future reproduction.

Low quality scan                                       Best quality high resolution scan

Full Production

It’s assumed that brittle and fragile photographs or documents are handled carefully and respectfully, but there’s more to it than just pressing the scan button. Millions of scanned files and images aren’t of much use unless they have been correctly recorded and labelled. Given the volume of our national records, every project is preceded by careful preparation and followed by a systematic post-production process. 

A government digitisation project usually involves:

  • Cataloguing and preparing records for digitisation
  • Digitising records to NAA paper preservation standards
  • Providing archival master images and derivatives
  • Applying a quality assurance process
  • Creating filenames and directories per NAA protocol
  • Performing file integrity tests
  • Generating checksums and providing metadata work reports
  • Transferring data securely to NAA
  • Reinstating physical documents and transfer securely to NAA

Safe and Found

Historical data is only as useful as it is accessible. By following the NAA protocol for creating filenames and directories, images and documents are indexed to be easily searched by name, date, decade, department or other variables. This searchability enables easy access for a range of people from historical researchers and government officials to families seeking information about their ancestry and of course, the general public.

Trust Micro Image

As a National Archives of Australia selected panel member with security clearance, we are a trusted provider of professional digitisation and document management services for all levels of government. To find out more, contact us or call us on 03 9427 7958.

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