The Australian Broadcasting Company (ABC) has an interesting article about the current status and the future of the National Archives of Australia (NAA). Like many government agencies worldwide, the National Archives of Australia is facing major budget cuts. In this case, the agency has been asked to cut several million dollars from its annual budget. The three smallest offices (Darwin, Hobart, and Adelaide) have been closed, and other changes are being made. Archivists, historians, and genealogists alike are uncomfortable with the changes.
Director-General of the Australian Archives, Ross Gibbs, states the proposed closures were consistent with a growing reality that very few people walk into the NAA offices to peek into the collection. The overwhelming majority make contact remotely and ask the archivists to find what they need and send it to them.
Unlike archives in some other countries, NAA is not trying to digitize every document in its collections. That would require years and cost millions of dollars. Instead, the agency is using what sounds like a "digital document on demand" system. The agency waits for someone to request a document or a series of documents, digitizes those individual records as soon as possible, then sends the digital images to the requestor.
It sounds to me like a modern version of sending documents by FAX upon request. The only difference is a higher quality digital image is created rather than a low-quality FAX.
Users claim that even the higher-quality scanned images are insufficient. One complaint is that reading old handwriting is tough enough using the original document; but, after scanning it is often too fuzzy to interpret. The argument is that in-person access is better than digital images.
You can read more about the issues at hand in the ABC web site at http://www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2010/02/25/2829779.htm?site=thedrum.