Can local government actually go completely paperless?

Ask any Records Manager what their #1 most frequently asked question is, and I guarantee the answer is:  Can I destroy a paper original after scanning? 

We are here to shed a little light.

The answer, in brief, is “Yes, but…..” And the longer the retention period of that record is, the louder that but gets. So, let’s look at this question in a little more depth.

Physical Document Destruction: Records with a Retention Period of Less than 10 Years

Can you destroy the paper original of a record after scanning? YES

It is perfectly acceptable to keep a scanned document in lieu of its original; the scanned document just needs to be designated the record copy and retained for the full retention period.

And in fact, I think we can all agree that digitizing records is a great way to speed up retrieval, allow access to multiple users at once (you don’t have to track down the person who has the file), protect essential records, etc. And let’s face it, destroying paper source documents can really free up a lot of physical storage space, which will reduce your physical storage costs.


We always give the caveat that a government needs to run the conversion to “paperless” by any affected parties, like the government’s auditors, or the federal or state agency to which the document is being submitted. 

Also, the agency needs to make sure that the record would be acceptable evidence in court. A judge may require that an agency prove the authenticity of a scanned copy — that it’s an exact copy of the original — and, if they are not satisfied that the scanned copy is an exact copy, require the original to be produced.

Otherwise, how long a government agency retains an original after scanning is up to the agency.  In general, we give a soft 6 months recommendation, and we do tell agencies to make sure a visual quality control check is done on every single scan to make sure that it is a complete representation of the original.

Physical Document Destruction: Records with a Retention Period of 10+ Years

We recommend if the document has a retention period of 10 years or more, they retain the original.  And that’s exactly on target with what I recommend.


Even though there are rules in place to try to ensure that electronic records are accessible, usable, and authentic for their full retention period, there are gaps in those rules. (They were last updated in 1998.) 

Of course, the law is always changing...

So be sure to stay up on new, current, and modified laws and policies.  For Pennsylvania Customers, check out some links below that will help you further your research!

Helpful Links:

1. Records Management Executive Order

2. Records Management Directive

3. State Records Management Manual

DSU Technology is a leading document and content management provider.  please visit to learn how to digitally manage your records.