Our guidance department has long been crammed into a small space that made it difficult to meet with students, help kids with college searches or scholarship applications, and otherwise, well, guide. Fortunately, this summer the district was able to set aside some money to blow out a wall and a large concrete vault to connect the small guidance area with a large conference room. While this is great, it left a vault full of student records that needed storing somewhere.
I know, I know, this is 2008 and big rooms full of paper are completely passe, but we move a little slow out here in rural New England. I'm sure there are plenty of schools with similar records, but I must say that the resistance to "paperlessness" has been fiercer than I expected. Regardless, it's time for these to go. State law requires that we retain student grades, attendance, and discipline records for 30 years; beyond that, we want to know who was here and when.
Obviously, it's time to electronically archive the records since the vault is being demolished this week. Years ago, they would have been transferred to microfiche, but Portable Document Format and even XML now make for a much better searchable storage solution on disk. I mention XML because a number of services have now begun scanning documents like these and converting them to XML for long-term storage and searchability in an open format (XML has the advantage of basically documenting itself). However, I'm a big fan of PDF since this has become a de facto standard and is easy to generate using off-the-shelf tools.
Whichever format we choose, we need to decide on an approach. While there are plenty of services that would gladly come on site, charge us a pretty penny, and hand us a DVD with all of our documents converted. There are plenty of others who would store the electronic files off-site and make them available to us online for an ongoing fee. While neither of these scenarios is cheap, they are both expedient: get the documents out of here, get the e-copies back, no muss, no fuss.
However, I have to wonder if it wouldn't be a better approach to purchase a high-speed sheet-fed scanner, Adobe Acrobat, and a relatively speedy computer and set up a scanning station in the front office. While I worry that the initial scanning of 50 years of student records may create an undue burden on administrative staff, I think that this would provide an opportunity to prevent the accumulation of the countless paper records that flow into the high school. As students enroll, everything gets scanned and stored on the network. Doctors notes, scholarship applications, college applications, and whatever other documents should follow a student around can all be scanned and made available on the network.
Seems like a good plan, right? Let me know...