Skip to Main Content

image of laptop

Digital Records Guidance

What are Digital Records?

Not all records are paper. COMAR 14.18.02 defines a record as any documentary material in any form created or received by an agency in connection with the transaction of public business. Today, an increasing percentage of records are in a digital format. Some of these records are created in an digital format ("born digital") while others are created by scanning records that are in paper or analog formats (such as microfilm). Digital records provide an excellent opportunity for government agencies to improve the efficiency of their records creation, access, and storage procedures.

What is my responsibility for digital records?

The records management responsibilities of public officials apply equally to paper and electronic records. As is the case with paper records, decisions about how long to retain electronic records are based on the record's content rather than its format. And, as with all government records, these retention decisions must be documented in a records retention and disposition schedule approved by the State Archives. Moreover, agencies must document record disposal by submitting disposal certificates to the State Archives.

What formats should I use for digital records?

When considering formats for your electronic records, remember that your records must remain accessible throughout the lifecycle of the record. If a format or system becomes obsolete, you must be able to migrate your records into new formats or systems so that the records are maintained through their retention period.

To ensure the long-term accessibility of permanent records, records transferred to the Archives must be in non-proprietary, open formats that do not require specialized software to access them. Here are the Archives' preferred file formats for permanent records:


  1. TIFF
  2. jpg
  3. PDF/A -Text-searchable, if possible
  4. PDF-Text-searchable, if possible


  1. rtf
  2. PDF/A -Text-searchable, if possible
  3. PDF-Text-searchable, if possible


Database transfers must include the data sets and data structure in a mutually agreeable format, such as XML or mdb Access.

For more on the sustainability of the various digital formats, we recommend the Library of Congress's Analysis of the Sustainability of Digital Formats

What if I have the same record in multiple formats?

In many cases, particularly when digital records are created by scanning paper records, agencies have the same records duplicated in both paper and digital formats. Agencies should carefully consider the proper retention for each version of the record in order to ensure that the agency's and the public's needs are met in an efficient manner. There are four main retention approaches when you have the same records duplicated in multiple formats:

Create records digitally

If an agency creates a record in a paper version and then digitizes it, the agency should consider whether the record can be more efficiently created in a digital format.

Example: At the Disposal Certificates Website, agencies are able to create disposal certificates in an electronic format rather then creating them as paper records.

Scan and return paper

Records can be created digitally through the "scan and return" method. In this process, paper is submitted to the creating agency, who then scans the paper and returns it to the submitter. The record is therefore the scanned image.

Example: Patrons file land records by bringing paper documents to the Circuit Courts. The Circuit Courts scan the paper documents and return the paper documents to the submitter. The official land record is the scanned image created by the Circuit Court.

Scan and destroy paper

In some cases an agency may wish to keep the digital version of a record for a longer retention than the original paper version of the record. This may be true for both non-permanent and permanent records. For instance, an agency may wish to destroy paper records after they have been scanned but keep the scanned images of the records for a number of years. In another case, the digital images of a record may be sent to the Archives for permanent retention while the paper records are destroyed. However, keep in mind that decisions about the retention of paper and digital records should be made based upon the value of the records, rather than considerations such as storage concerns.

Example: Patrons file claims against decedents with no estate of record by filing them with a Register of Wills. The Register of Wills scans the records and transfers the images to the Archives for permanent retention and destroys the paper unless the submitter has the record returned.

Retaining multiple formats

For some record series, there is justification for keeping records in multiple formats. For instance, a record series may be digitized to make the records more accessible. Meanwhile, there may be inherent value in the paper version of the records that is not captured in the electronic version that warrants the retention of the paper records.

Example: The Maryland State Archives has the original speech with which George Washington resigned his commission as the Commander-In-Chief of the Continental Army. Even though this document has been digitized, the historic value of the original paper document warrants its permanent retention.

This web site is provided as a courtesy of the Maryland State Archives. As you develop your records management program, you should consult with your agency’s Records Officer.

This web site is presented for reference purposes under the doctrine of fair use. When this material is used, in whole or in part, proper citation and credit must be attributed to the Maryland State Archives. PLEASE NOTE: The site may contain material from other sources which may be under copyright. Rights assessment, and full originating source citation, is the responsibility of the user.

Tell Us What You Think About the Maryland State Archives Website!

© Copyright December 15, 2023 Maryland State Archives