Saturday, October 24, 2015

More on the Struggle Against Arboricide

Back in April we had a lively discussion on this page about the predilection of State Historic Preservation Officers (SHPOs) to insist on receiving all correspondence and reports as paper documents (See SHPOs Kill Trees, Don't They? -- Since then I've dealt with several more SHPOs who simply demand paper without bothering even to explain themselves ("Do NOT submit electronic documents," one orders, to which I am tempted to respond [electronically], 'F**k you, you autocratic twerp.").

When I've asked SHPOs or their defenders about this, the response is always: "Well, gee, if we just had some more MONEY..."

Which is understandable, but BS, I think. Since April I've been digitizing all my old files -- granted I'm not an SHPO, but 60 years of practice has left me with a LOT of paperwork -- and I've learned two things:

1. It's not all that expensive, or difficult; and
2. Once it's done, it's a whole lot easier and cheaper to maintain and access my files.

And if one isn't digitizing a bunch of old stuff, but simply accepting and e-filing new stuff, the cost drops pretty much to zero.

I realize that an SHPO has to handle a whole lot more documents than I do, but I simply do not believe that it would be more costly to do it electronically than to pay people to open and sort and file and retrieve and manage paper documents.

When my scanblitz is complete, I'll post some data on what it's cost me to digitize my ton or so of old paperwork, but in the meantime -- for those who may want to start digitizing, and with thanks to my lawyer son Josh who put me onto it (after making his office paper-free), let me recommend the Fujitsu ScanSnap ix500 ( A small, inexpensive, little machine that goes through amazing volumes of paper in minutes, capturing color images of both sides of each sheet. With the part-time help of three students (to whom I'm profoundly grateful), I've reduced roughly 60 bankers' boxes of paper to about 1/4 of a 2 terabyte hard drive just a little bigger than my cellphone (and yes, I'm backing it up on another one). If I can do it, anyone can -- even an SHPO.


IPA makes me Hoppy said...

While I agree with you largely, and am inspired to do the same with my eight filing cabinets or so of paper scraps, I still have that Luddite fear: what if I can't find the file? what if the hard drives get erased? what if there is technology collapse? etc. etc. I want those hard copy backups of extremely important documents, and there is nothing like the smell of paper for some things. Still I take your point, and for SHPOs, it would be soooooo much more efficient. We in CA are now providing both paper and pdf copies to the Information Centers, as well as shape files for the maps. It will take us some time to get caught up, but give it a decade or to, and we will be much less dependent on paper. I just did an analysis, and my ream consumption has decreased 89% over the past five years, due to pdf report submission alone.

Anonymous said...

Hi Tom

What do you think of the HPF funding issue these days? If the Land Conservation Trust Fund legislation fails to be renewed what will happen to historic preservation and its practice in this country? The system has clear flaws but without the HPF funds I would guess a number of SHPO's will either shut down or be so cut to the bone they may be incapable of providing any check on Federal 106 requirements among other things. Your thoughts??

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

Hi Tom

Please comment on the re-authorization of the Historic Preservation Fund. Without this, SHPO's and THPO's may have to cut staff or close entirely. How do you feel this affect the nation's program on historic preservation?


Timothy Parsons said...

Hey Tom. It's not that expensive or difficult? Tell that to state legislatures and overworked IT departments. Electronic documentation requires a database specialized for that purpose, server space to store things, and in some cases changes to law or regulation regarding document retention.

Sure, it's easy to scan things or receive them via email or file transfer. But you have to have server space to store it, and I can't just set up a machine in my office, network it, build an instance of SQL to manage it, etc.

We DO accept electronic documents for review, but we're still stuck in a world where we have to use paper much of the time. Believe it or not, it isn't our fault. We live in a much bigger world of state government. An island of historic preservation autonomy we are not.

Thomas F King said...

Anonymous, I think the HPF is important, but preservationists have done a rotten job of demonstrating its importance. Notably, it seems to me that preservation has become more and more inward-looking, more and more concerned about less and less. SHPOs need to be building alliances with others concerned about effective management of the environment, instead of focusing on how well people are handling the jots and twiddles of NR nominations and effect determinations. They ought to be promoting real public involvement in 106 review, instead of accepting the role of project clearance officer. To paraphrase the 1998 Interorganizational Principles and Guidelines for Social Impact Assessment, they ought to focus on what counts, not on what's easy to count. Antiquated or incompetent IT systems may certainly get in the way, but there HAS to be a better way to respond than just continuing to insist on paper submissions.