Special Collections Research Center

Records Management


There are times when an office may wish to reformat its records -- that is, to reproduce them in another medium, such as photographic film or CD-ROM. An office may wish to create a backup of vital records, to reduce its storage requirements, or to provide multiple points of access to the same document. Knowing when to reformat and what format to use is a complex process. To get you started, here is some basic information about formats commonly used for records management. For more details about university or state policies, email uarp@lsv.uky.edu. For additional information about preservation issues, contact SCRC.

Microfilming Records

KRS 171.450 gives specific guidelines to follow when microfilming permanent records. If you intend to destroy the original format of a permanent record, you must use a microfilm laboratory certified by the Kentucky Department for Libraries and Archives and store a security copy of the film at the State Archives. Permanent records cannot be destroyed until you are notified that the microfilmed copy has met certification standards. Before considering a reformatting project, please contact University Archives and Records Program by emailing uarp@lsv.uky.edu.  Instructions to ensure the preservation of the University's records will be discussed.

Microfilm v. Microfiche v. Microfilm Jackets: What's What?

Archival quality microfilm is 16mm or 35mm silver halide, polyester-base roll film. This medium will last hundreds of years if properly prepared and stored. Silver halide provides the clearest and most precise image. Polyester is the most durable film base. Roll format provides greater protection of the images.

Other microformats include microfiche and microfilm jackets. Microfiche is 4" x 6" sheets of miniature film images. Microfilm jackets are created by inserting sections of film cut from 16mm rolls into 4" x 6" fiche-like sleeves. Jackets are updateable, a particularly nice feature for offices that have records that accumulate sporadically over long periods of time. Medical records are a good example of these types of records.

Neither microfiche nor microfilm jackets are considered an archival medium. There is the potential for information loss during the cutting and loading process; microfiche can easily be scratched, mutilated or lost; fiche is prepared in a fashion that does not meet archival processing standards; and both microfiche and microfilm jackets can be misfiled as easily as paper. Both formats, however, can be used in offices as a "use" copy if the original paper records are retained or if an uncut, silver halide, polyester-based original (master negative) is created and stored.

Finally, Diazo and vesicular film processes are cheaper to produce; however, their image quality is not as precise or stable as silver halide's. Diazo and vesicular microformats are used frequently for formatting non-permanent records. When the goal is to save physical space and to store information cheaply for a short period of time, diazo and vesicular film formats are the most economical choices.

Digital Imaging

Electronic document imaging, or digital imaging, is the process of creating computer-readable image file copies of records. This is generally done by scanning paper documents directly or scanning microfilm of those documents. The image files are then stored on a computer hard disk, optical disk, or other storage medium. The images must then be indexed to facilitate file searching and retrieval. There are emerging standards for document imaging, but the field is still developing at a fast pace. Those who may be interested in developing digital imaging systems for their UK records should contact the Records Program at (859) 257-1742 for assistance with the planning and development process.

Kentucky Department for Libraries and Archives provides more information concerning digital imaging at Imaging Technologies and Recordkeeping.

UARP supports the judicious use of imaging. Circumstances under which a digital imaging system may be appropriate:

  • same documents used by many people simultaneously and/or in different locations
  • documents referred to frequently
  • quick access needed to documents
  • documents are easy to scan (uniform size, clear characters)

In its Policy Memorandum on Optical Storage of Public Records, the Kentucky Department for Libraries and Archives (KDLA) outlines the ways in which state agencies may use imaging systems while complying with state record-keeping statutes. The KDLA Policy Memorandum has two basic points which UK units must keep in mind:

  1. Public records which are permanent or whose vital retention status is ten years or greater: original documents of this type may not be destroyed without prior approval from KDLA. If you wish to petition KDLA for permission to destroy records of this nature, please see KDLA's Policy Memorandum on Optical Storage of Public Records.
  2. Public records which are not permanent or whose vital retention status is less than ten years: these records may be destroyed after entering them into a digital imaging system. Agencies are strongly advised, however, that meeting the criteria laid out for permanent records is critical to the acceptance of the records as valid documentation of agency transactions and is required for the admissibility of public records.

Any UK unit which develops an imaging system that involves the destruction of original documents before the completion of their retention period will become responsible for the maintenance of those image files. This includes permanent records. In other words, once a unit has committed itself to the retention of image files, it will be responsible for preserving and providing access to those files for as long as the records must be retained. In certain cases, the University Archives will request that copies of imaged records be transferred to the archives.

In order to help UK units develop imaging systems which will support compliance with Public and Open records statutes and stand the test of time, the Records Program suggests that units considering adopting optical imaging systems follow these steps:

  • notify Records Program staff that you are considering adopting a new system
  • start with a thorough planning phase: needs assessment, potential solutions, selection of system type and justification; if this process points to an imaging system as the proper system, all involved should become familiar with the KDLA Policy Memorandum on Optical Storage of Public Records
  • write a statement of purpose
  • design the system: keep in mind all criteria which must be satisfied in a petition to the State Archivist
  • during the system design phase, develop a detailed register of the record types which the system will incorporate and their retention periods as listed in the Model Schedule
  • develop the written petition to the State Archivist; if the proper effort has gone into planning and designing the system, the petition should be easy to pull together

Throughout this process the Records Program will offer its support in interpreting KDLA policies and developing the petition to KDLA. The Records Program stresses the importance of proper planning and design for such a system. Because of the challenges inherent in maintaining permanent records in electronic form, such a commitment should not be made unless it is clearly the best option available.

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