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Digitisation is the means of converting hard-copy or non-digital records into digital format. It can involve taking digital photographs of original records or scanning (imaging) records.

There are two main categories of digitisation:

  • Business process digitisation programs: the ongoing routine digitisation of records for daily business use, such as digitising mail, invoices, applications, submissions etc as they are received by the organisation.
  • Back-capture digitisation projects: the retrospective digitisation of existing paper records conducted for a variety of reasons, such as to streamline systems, enable the destruction of original paper records, make records more accessible or preserve old and fragile records.

This guidance provides advice for NSW public offices on implementing sound and well structured digitisation projects and programs for records.

The guidance promotes compliance with the general retention and disposal authority for original or source records that have been copied, the Standard on Records Management and the Standard on the Physical Storage of State records.

The guidance can also help public offices to ensure:

  • the reliability and authenticity, and hence the legal admissibility and credibility of digital images
  • that digital images will be accessible for as long as they are required
  • that strategies are in place to create digital images fit for long-term retention
  • the sound management of original paper records.
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General guidance for digitisation programs and projects

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Specific guidance for business process digitisation

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Specific guidance for back-capture digitisation

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Exclusions from this guidance

This guidance does not address:

  • the digitisation of analogue audio or video records
  • the specific issues concerning the digitisation of microfilm or microfiche (although much of the back-capture guidance is still relevant to such projects)
  • the management and preservation of ‘born digital’ records
  • the specific technical parameters for particular types of paper records - if your organisation requires guidance you should seek advice from digitisation computer software and hardware vendors
  • systems network architecture issues relating to digitisation - your organisation should refer to its existing computer systems administration and implementation procedures.

If your organisation is intending to digitise records that are required as State archives you should refer to these guidelines but also contact Museums of History NSW for further advice.

State Records NSW does not endorse any particular providers of digitisation equipment or services, or recommend any particular digitisation hardware or software.
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Glossary of terms

The majority of these definitions are taken from Archives New Zealand's Digitisation standard (2007). Other sources are noted after the definitions.

Back-capture digitisation projects

Retrospective or project-based digitisation of existing sets of non-digital records to enhance accessibility, maximise re-use or for preservation purposes.

Born digital

Digital materials which are created and retained only in digital form, without ever having had a non-digital equivalent. This term is used to differentiate them from:

  • digital materials which have been created as a result of converting non-digital originals
  • digital materials which may have originated from a digital source but have been printed to paper.

[Digital Preservation Coalition, Digital Preservation Handbook]

Business [information] system

An automated system that creates or manages information about an organisation’s activities. Includes applications whose primary purpose is to facilitate transactions between an organisational unit and its customers eg. an e-commerce system, client relationship management system, purpose-built or customised database, finance or human resources systems. Business information systems that create or manage records should have the appropriate functionally for these tasks, or they should interface with other systems that manage the records.

[National Archives of Australia, Recordkeeping Glossary]

Business-process digitisation programs

Digitisation of records, often on receipt, and incorporation of the digital record into a business system supporting ongoing organisational activities. Such digitisation may take place in conjunction with the operation of an electronic document and records management system.


An image that has been created from another image, such as a master image, through an image editing process to create a user or working copy. The process usually involves a loss of information to reduce the size of the image by sampling it to a lower resolution, using lossy compression techniques, or altering an image using image processing techniques. Typically, such derivatives are made for purposes such as web access, including 'thumbnail' images that might be only 100 pixels square, or as 'reference' or 'service' images that should fit completely within an average monitor. Images created for this purpose commonly have smaller file sizes and, therefore, do not require a fast network connection and are in web-viewable formats.

Note: With business process digitisation, derivatives may not be necessary.


Also known as imaging or scanning, digitisation is the means of converting hard-copy or non-digital records into digital format. Digitisation may also be undertaken by taking digital photographs of the original records.


The process of establishing access points to facilitate retrieval of records and/or information.

[ISO 15489-2001]


A faithful digital reproduction of a record, optimised for longevity and for production of a range of delivery versions (derivatives). Masters are often captured at the highest practicable quality or resolution and stored for long-term usage. Typically, masters are stored in an off-line mode on tape or CD and are accessed only for the production of derivative images.

Note: With business process digitisation it is likely that only one image will be produced rather than a master and derivates.


Data describing context, content and structure of records and their management through time.

[ISO 15489-2001]

State record

Any record made and kept, or received and kept, by any person in the course of the exercise of official functions in a public office, or for any purpose of a public office, or for the use of a public office.

[State Records Act 1998 (NSW)]

Recordkeeping system

Information systems which capture, maintain and provide access to records over time.

[AS 4390-1996, Part 1, 4.20].


The process of removing or masking unwanted or sensitive areas of a record prior to showing it to others.

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    The following publications were either used in the compilation of these guidelines or are provided as sources of further guidance. State Records' publications are referenced throughout the guidelines where relevant.

    ISO Standards

    • ISO 12653–1:2000, Electronic imaging – Test targets for the black and white scanning of office documents, Part 1 – Characteristics and Part 2- methods of use
    • ISO/TR 15801:2004, Electronic imaging – Information stored electronically – Recommendations for trustworthiness and reliability.ISO/TR 13028:2010, Information and documentation – Implementation guidelines for digitization of records
    • ISO23081-1:2006, Information and documentation – Records management processes – Metadata for records, Part 1 – Principles and Part 2 – Conceptual and implementation issues
    • ISO/TR 15489-2:2001, Information and documentation – Records Management, Part 2 - Guidelines
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    State Records NSW would like to gratefully acknowledge a number of key contributors to the guidelines.

    In particular we would like to thank:

    • Archives New Zealand
    • National Archives of Australia
    • Queensland State Archives

    for their kind assistance in the development of these guidelines. Much of the content has been derived from their excellent guidance on the subject (see bibliography).

    The following public offices provided their advice and assistance:

    • Council of the City of Sydney
    • Department of Education and Communities
    • Family and Community Services, Housing NSW
    • University of Western Sydney
    • NSW Police.

    The members of State Records' Digital Records Advisory Group (DRAG) contributed feedback and advice.

    The following consulting firms were generous in sharing their advice and knowledge:

    • Recordkeeping Innovation
    • Redman Solutions
    • New Zealand Micrographic Services Ltd.

    Published 2014 / Revised April 2016 (references only)

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