Last night I was reading a magazine, and inside it was an ad for reading magazines. Now this struck me as humorous, ironic, and appropriate. The gist of the ad was that more people read print magazines then have in the past and that subscription numbers are up. The reason, according to the ad, is that people like the one on one relationship they have with the magazine.
This makes sense to me. I think people like tangible things. We have seen it here in the office. My wife will tell you, I like electronic distribution. I don't particularly like materiel things, and if the option exists to store something in e form I do it. I have a lot of music, a lot, and years ago I had over 1000 cds. Now I have maybe 20 (and some days I wonder why). Everything I listen to is digital. I have an ebook reader, and enjoy that, and I don't store paperwork (other than the must have deeds etc), the bulk of my paperwork is scanned and stored electronically.
The basic idea here is that I want to bring that electronic world to the office. We have begun a transformation, over the past few years, and hope to continue it. Looking for meeting minutes from the Planning and Zoning Board. No need to come in, we have them electronically on line - back to the 60s. Looking for a plan, we scan those and save them electronically as well.
Not only do we do this for space reasons, but we find that it is more convenient. I'd love it if we could tell a resident, there's no need to come in, go to our web site and you can find the plan, letter, permit filed electronically. Of course to do this, we need two things, time and labor. Two things that are hard to come by. Time is needed to actually scan the paper copies in, and file them correctly. Next we need a body to do that work. We have had volunteers who have started that idea, but it tends to die off soon, because the work isn't that interesting, and while the volunteer doesn't expect to get paid, they do seem to want to have fun or at least not be bored by the work. I can't blame them.
What else holds us back? I think demand does. For every one that comes in and supports the idea of electronic information, I have someone say they want a print out. They want to feel the weight of a plan, or the heft of a report. We have found that we charge 50 cents a page for a copy/print out, and people don't mind paying to have a copy of the Master Plan, because they like the idea of flipping through pages, and they like the idea of writing notes on the margins. I understand that. In fact I agree to some degree with that (for every ebook I read, I read three traditional books). I also like the use of the notes feature in adobe acrobat to take notes in the margins, and I love the ability to use the search function to electronically search a file.
So, baby steps are the way to go. We will continue to scan, store and display information in a readily available electronic format. Will it happen as quickly as I'd like, nope, but it will happen.