FIRE, FLOOD, STORM AND THEFT
Paper is a particularly easy material to damage or destroy. Yet in many institutions, paper records continue to be the only records in existence.
...AND PRICELESS, IRREPLACEABLE DOCUMENTS.
This was the situation for many of the reports held at the British Geological Survey (BGS).
The British Geological Survey, a component body of the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), is the nation's principal supplier of objective, impartial and up-to-date geological expertise and information for decision making for governmental, commercial and individual users. The BGS maintains and develops the nation's understanding of its geology to improve policy making, enhance national wealth and reduce risk. It also collaborates with the national and international scientific community in carrying out research in strategic areas, including energy and natural resources, our vulnerability to environmental change and hazards, and our general knowledge of the Earth system. More about the BGS can be found at www.bgs.ac.uk .
Almost 15 million documents are stored in the National Geoscience Data Centre at the headquarters of the BGS near Nottingham, including charts, maps and geological reports dating right back to the BGS’s inception in 1835 and before.
The storage of these documents is taken very seriously and is a priority for the National Geological Records Centre and the Information Delivery team at BGS. State-of-the-art fire prevention and gas extinguishing systems are in place.
Because of this, the BGS applied for joint funding to scan the documents - starting, of course, with the most valuable ones. BGS was embarking on what would become, in every sense, a major operation. Many of the files are, quite literally, unique.
An insurance policy valued at £2,000,000, was taken out simply to cover the transportation of the documents from the BGS to the scanning company, Quantor, in Brownhills, Walsall.
Once there, specialist equipment had to be brought in to handle the documents. Many of the charts and maps are too large to be handled by conventional scanning equipment. A large format scanner was therefore installed. The material had to be very carefully handled, since no damage could be allowed to occur during the scanning process. Security was tight. This was for two reasons: firstly, for protection of the documents and secondly, because many of the documents were commercially confidential. With deadlines tight, shift work was introduced with two teams of people working extended hours.
In all, Quantor scanned and indexed around 425,000 documents and drawings in this first stage of the scanning process in a time-frame of just eight weeks. Quality control was stringent throughout. BGS staff members individually checked a sizeable proportion of every batch and have yet to find a single error.
Indeed, the overall quality was so high that the BGS has vacuum-packed all of the original documents so they can put these into secure storage. From now on, they will rely exclusively on the scanned versions.) Better still; the scans are now also being made available online. They will be available at any time to academics, students and professionals. Geologists can even open them up on their laptops when they're out working in the field.
Rod Bowie, Manager of The National Geological Records Centre at BGS, said: "As a public body, we have a specific duty of care regarding these records. The reports are still in daily use and are highly valued - the geology of a country changes little over the years. The reports cover all aspects of BGS work both in this country and abroad The information in these reports took many months or even years. Scanning them and making them available online is a huge benefit to the BGS, commercial and government organisations, and the public, both for practical and educational reasons
And why was Quantor chosen to do the job?
Mr Bowie explained: "We had a very rigorous tendering process, eventually leading to a short list of six contenders. Each of these were given a sample batch to scan and the results were compared against an extensive set of criteria including quality of scan, accuracy, alignment, compression and so on. As well as this technical assessment, we also looked at the company itself, including its security, data handling and storage systems and overall quality control. Quantor gave us immense confidence in their ability to handle the job successfully".
And would they consider using Quantor again? "Yes, when BGS receive funding in the future, Quantor will definitely be considered for the work".
British Geological Survey
Kingsley Dunham Centre,
Tel: 0115 936 3100
Quantor Scanning Limited
14 Maybrook Road
Tel: 01543 377266