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January 29, 2009

Paper or PDF?: PDF/A is the preferred format for long-term archival

I had the priviledge to speak at the first annual FPPOA – National IT Conference & Expo yesterday in Universal City. They had very good attendence and the atmosphere was brimming with interest on a topic I am passionate about, the use of technology to transform how we do things.

Even now, as I peck at the keyboard, I know that once I click on the “publish” button, you will have the opportunity almost instantly to read my ramblings. I still remember the days when I would put printed articles ready to be laid out through a waxing process and roll it onto a large newsprint template and wait half a day until the story was printed and delivered.

Information used to, and still travels on paper. Words and photos are gently laid down on bleached, pressed wood pulp. When we want to archive these words of wisdom, much of it is still stored as paper filling large rooms in dark building basements and other scary places.

Soon when the rooms fill up, we realize something, storing it isn’t nearly as challenging as finding the information later. Not only that, but paper records are vulnerable to destruction by floods, fire and other calamities. In many jurisdictions, paper court records are all that stands in the way of a convicted felon and their freedom. No record, no conviction.

This is why it is comforting to know that according to a recent AIIM survey 90% of organizations are now using the PDF file format for long-term storage of scanned documents, and 89% convert Office files to PDF for sharing and archiving. Paper is still used by all organizations but in the next 5 years, paper as a long-term storage format is anticipated to drop to 77%. Betsy Fanning, Director of Standards at AIIM also notes that “PDF/A is a good option for archiving electronic documents and is far better than archiving native files from any specific application.” (source:

I am glad many organizations are revisiting the ways we store information. Digital is by far superior for the storage, retrieval and sharing of information.

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