Scanning of records

The purpose of this advice is to provide an outline of recommended scanning procedures for records with due regard to:

  • producing records as evidence in a court in the Northern Territory (NT)
  • satisfying the provisions of the Disposal Schedule for Temporary Records that have been digitised and the NT Government Records Management Standards
  • quality control measures required in the production of digitised images.

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Scanning of documents supports the transition to electronic document and records management systems (EDRM) by reducing or eliminating the need for hard-copy files and offers a solution to record keeping environments which have files 'split' between hard-copy originals and born digital documents.

When deciding to scan hard-copy records, an agency must consider the following:

  • is there a sound business reason to scan the records (is it cost effective)?
  • are the records in a suitable format for the process?
  • will the scanning process be performed in accordance with appropriate standards and adequate quality control procedures?
  • will the process be documented so as to withstand scrutiny if necessary?
  • will the scanned images be captured into a compliant electronic document and records management system and managed in accordance with the NT Government Records Management Standards?
  • are the records covered by the provisions of an authorised and current records disposal schedule?

If the answer to any of the questions above is ‘no’ then the Records Service recommends that scanning of hard copy records does not proceed.

If an agency answers ‘yes’ to all of these questions, then scanning may proceed.

Explanatory information

Scanning (sometimes referred to as imaging or digitisation) is a method for converting hard copy records into an electronic format, using scanners and associated software. While scanning of records produces obvious business benefits, it is important agencies recognise the record keeping issues that result from scanning records.

Original hard copy records can be disposed of after scanning if the conditions detailed in the NT Government Disposal schedule for temporary records which have been digitised have been met.

Decision to scan

It is important to note that not all records are suitable for scanning. There are a range of considerations which may affect the decision to scan hard copy records including:

  • the likely usage or retrieval rate of the records. Records that are routinely scanned typically have a high rate of retrieval, require access from more than one site, and often require rapid access
  • whether the records being considered for scanning are likely to be added to or amended in the normal course of business. Records that are likely to be changed over time may not be suitable for scanning while they are still in use
  • the period for which the records will be required for current business. Records which need only be retained for a short period, i.e. six months or less, may not be worth the expense of scanning
  • the physical attributes of the records. Some forms of records provide a challenge for the scanning process. Large format records or bound volumes may be more difficult to scan effectively because of their size. Photographs, maps and plans can pose challenges, such as the need to create high-resolution images to capture intricate detail, leading to a large size for each image. Any records that are physically damaged may not survive the scanning process.

The decision to scan is to be based on business requirements and an information risk analysis.

Once a record has been scanned, the scanned record should become the record relied upon for business, with the original hard-copy being either archived or destroyed. Simultaneous use of both hardcopy originals and digital copies is not good practice and is likely to lead to error.

Evidentiary value of the scanned record

As stated in Records Management Advice No 4 - Records as evidence, there are no definable legal situations or processes that require that original documents must be released to a court of the NT. This does not mean, however, that any document that has been scanned will be admissible in a court. It is almost always up to the discretion of the court as to whether the production of original documents is required or whether a copy would suffice.

In order for a scanned document to be acceptable rather than the original hard copy it is important that the scanned format can be proved to be ‘good evidence’. This involves establishing, and being able to prove, good record keeping practices and procedures that are able to withstand possible judicial scrutiny.

Agencies need to ensure that all scanned images have the same degree of authenticity and integrity necessary to meet the same purpose as the original hard copy. Consideration needs to be given as to whether the scanned image can perform the same function as the hard copy, bearing in mind current and future use of the record. If not, scanning should not take place.

It is also crucial that the scanning process itself takes place within a framework that observes stringent quality control procedures (see 5.3 Quality Control below).

The next step in this 'good evidence' process is for agencies to comply with the provisions of the NT Government Records Management Standards. Records that are identified in, and produced via routine defined business processes are likely to provide better evidence of that business than records identified and produced ad hoc. This also applies to hard-copy records that have been scanned.

Fundamental to such compliance is the use of a compliant records management system. According to the NT Government Records Management Standards, all NT Government records should be registered into a records management system that records the standard set of information categories essential to the integrity, management and retrieval of the records. This will satisfy certain evidential requirements of the records in question by guaranteeing that business rules exist for their management with regard to:

  • capturing records
  • allocating a unique identifier
  • application of standard classification terms
  • security of the records
  • managing and recording access to the records
  • managing the records' disposal process.

If a scanned record is captured into a records management system, the above rules will go some way to being able to prove that it is 'good evidence' and be admissible in court. For this reason, it is essential that scanned records are captured into an electronic document and records management system. The ability of an EDRM to prove the inviolability of a record and to provide audit logs of access history is essential so that the integrity of a record can be verified in situations where they are required to be produced as evidence.

Disposing of hard copy following scanning

Regardless of the evidentiary value of a scanned image in court, there are legal implications for the destruction of NT Government records. Destruction of original hard copies should not be in breach any legislative or regulatory requirements to retain the originals. If in doubt, seek legal advice.

The hard-copy originals can be destroyed if all conditions under the Disposal Schedule for Temporary Records that have been digitised have been met (1). There are several categories of original documents that, even when scanned, are not able to be destroyed under this schedule. These are summarised below:

  • original contracts under seal, Powers of Attorney, public documents, charters, testimonials and intergovernmental agreements or treaties
  • documents of a legislative or administrative character, including written regulations, rules, by-laws, orders, determinations, proclamations and awards
  • documents and authorities made, granted or issued under a power conferred by an Act
  • original artworks, photos, maps, illustrations and drawings are not to be destroyed but transferred to the NT Archives for assessment as state archives
  • no original records to be destroyed if legal action current, pending or likely or if an FOI application has been lodged
  • hard-copy originals must be kept for records that have no approved retention schedule authorising destruction
  • hard-copy originals of records assessed for permanent retention cannot be destroyed if a decision to scan them is made. The hard copy will ultimately be transferred to the NT Archives Service (2)
  • records created prior to 1 July 1978 (self-government) are not to be destroyed after digitisation, but referred to the NT Archives Service for appraisal (3).

Under s 145 of the Information Act 2002 (the Act), it is an offence for a person to abandon or delete or otherwise dispose of a record unless done in compliance with a relevant practice or procedure, a relevant standard or otherwise in compliance with an Act or court order. The main method of compliance with this section of the Act is to dispose of records in accordance with an authorised records disposal schedule.

Originals should be retained until all quality control checks have been made and any required re-scanning carried out. A minimum period of three months is required under the schedule (provided all quality checks have been performed within this period), however, legal or business needs may require retention for a longer period. The investigation of fraud, in particular, may require the retention of original signed documents. Fingerprints are also obtained only from original documents.

The imaged version becomes the de facto of the original and must be managed accordingly. For record classes of temporary value that have an approved retention schedule, the scanned image needs to be managed for the full period of retention as specified on the applicable schedule. This may require the periodic migration of images from both hardware and software platforms that have been superseded to current platforms to keep the records accessible and readable.

Document scanning procedures

This section outlines factors to be considered in the scanning process and in the quality control measures that surround it. (4)

Process summary

The process of digitisation must be authorised and documented. Standard written workplace procedures on the scanning process are required. The scanning process should form part of a defined business process with scanned records always being created at the same point in the process and being handled and maintained in the same way.

Staff engaged in the digitisation process must be trained and familiar with procedures.

Procedures must include measures to verify that the image copies are accurate and complete reproductions of the originals.

Standard image formats should be used. Suitability of image format should be verified by testing with samples sets of target documents against quality criteria.

System documentation, including testing documentation and logs, should be retained in a compliant electronic document and records management system (EDRM).

Document preparation

Some preparation of documents prior to scanning will be required and will vary with the nature of documents to be scanned. Typically, preparation includes the removal of stables, clips and bindings, followed by sorting and orientation of documents prior to loading the scanner. Document preparation procedures should in no way impair the capture of information from the document.

If batching of documents is part of procedure, batches should be in ‘record class’ groups that have the same retention periods. In particular, do not mix any permanent originals with batches of temporary records. Batches should be clearly identified and retained in their batches to allow for retrieval of original record if required.

A system of management for scanned originals must be in place to facilitate their retrieval and eventual disposal.

Quality control

The scanned record needs to be a complete and accurate reproduction of the hard copy.

All aspects of the scanning process should be documented:

  • who carried out the scanning process
  • when the scanning occurred
  • the equipment used
  • the processes followed
  • the quality control measures observed (refer quality control procedures described in Australian Standard AS ISO 15801-2006, Electronic imaging - Information stored electronically - Recommendations for trustworthiness and reliability)
  • the testing practices and results.

If there is a risk of litigation it may be necessary to certify each and every scanned record as a true copy with an additional certification process.

To ensure correct operation of digitisation equipment, the equipment should be regularly tested. Test target images should be captured into the EDRM as both proof of testing regime and correct operation of equipment. Frequency of testing is dependent on volume of documents scanned and should follow manufacturers' recommendations.

A sample set of documents representing the document types to be scanned in production should be assembled to evaluate and refine scanner settings. Examples of poor quality documents should be included in this sample set.

Visual inspection of 100% of scanned images for image quality is recommended. Inspection of a set proportion of scanned images is also acceptable, though should be no less than 5%. Visual inspection must be a part of any quality assurance process for digitised records.

The object of digitisation is to render a true and accurate copy of the original record. Following the digitisation process digitised images should be checked for:

  • image resolution - check all text and detail on the image is legible, in particular fine or small size text, punctuation and decimal points
  • image orientation - check image head-up, not skewed and is correctly centred
  • image completeness - check image not cropped or incomplete
  • dimensional accuracy - check that dimensional information is reproduced within acceptable tolerances
  • colour fidelity - check original colours preserved in image.

Any images not to standard must be re-scanned.

Clear and properly oriented images will also aid in any Optical Character Recognition (OCR) processes that may be applied to the scanned image.

Once the digitised representation, or image, of the original has been created and checked, uploading the image to the EDRM is usually the next step in the process. The procedure for the capture of images into the EDRM should be documented.

This may be batch-wide via an import process, or individually on a document by document basis. In all cases a check to ensure all images have been loaded and that all relevant metadata has been captured must be made.

Any system log files, in the case of batch imports, should be captured into the EDRM as proof of successful loading of documents. Once captured into EDRM, images will then be subject to system audit logging processes.

Digitisation specifications for temporary records

Standard image formats should be selected and documented for use with particular record classes. A number of recommended technical specifications for image formats can be found in the references listed at the end of this advice. (5)

Sample sets of documents should always be test scanned as part of the process to develop and verify technical specifications. Resulting images must be an accurate and complete representation of the original.

If OCR or other processing of the image is carried out, the test batches should be subjected to this further processing also. The accuracy of OCR processes is never 100%. However, images with sufficient resolution and correct orientation will improve the performance of OCR software.

Recommended default specification for scanning of predominantly text documents of A4 or A3 size is:

  • 300dpi
  • minimum 8-bit colour
  • full duplex (with blank page detection and removal (dropout))
  • Searchable PDF format (for example, with OCR).

Images scanned to this specification will support the document content indexing and searching function of the TRIM recordkeeping system.


  1. Australian Standard AS ISO 15801-2006 Electronic imaging – information stored electronically – Recommendations for trustworthiness and reliability.
  2. Queensland State Archives. Guideline for the digitisation of paper records (2006).
  3. Archives New Zealand. Digitisation Standard S-5 (2007).
  4. State Records Authority of New South Wales. Record keeping in brief 11 – Digital imaging and recordkeeping (2007)

More information

The NT Records Service is responsible for developing, managing and implementing Records Management Standards for the NT Government. The regulatory basis for records management is the Information Act 2002, Part 9 - Records and Archives Management.

For further information please contact:

Records Policy Unit
ICT Policy and Strategy Section
Department of Corporate and Information Services


  1. NT Government Disposal Schedule – Disposal Schedule for Temporary Records which have been Digitised (November 2009) - See conditions on pp 5 and 6
  2. Information Act 2002, s 141
  3. Refer to Archives Management Standard, Disposal of Government Records Created Prior to 1 July 1978 - NT Archives Service, 2007 (Aug).
  4. Australian Standard AS ISO 15801-2006. Electronic imaging – information stored electronically – recommendations for trustworthiness and reliability – see s 6.4
  5. Archives New Zealand, Digitisation Standard S-6 (2007) – see pp 36 to 7; Queensland State Archives. Guideline for the digitisation of paper records (2006) – see p 61

Last updated: 29 July 2019

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