Staples and Rock Samples: The Life of a Scanning Operator

Written by Katie Oberthaler


The daily procedures of a scanning operator can seem routine: sort, scan, index, repeat. Despite the repetition, though, successfully scanning hundreds of documents requires a certain expertise—and a healthy tolerance for removing staples.

Jann Michishima, Director of Operations for Accuflex Scanning

Jann Michishima, Director of Operations for Accuflex, a document imaging and scanning company, sat down with us to offer her insider tips on tackling high-volume scanning projects. We learned some surprising pointers, including how to deal with rocks. Yes, rocks.

Which industries tend to outsource their scanning the most? Why?

Michishima: It really depends. We work with a lot of cities. Many cities will outsource the scanning of their engineering plans. Those plans require a certain type of scanner, which can be quite expensive for an organization to purchase.

For any company, though, it can be a matter of manpower. They don’t have assistants to do large-volume scanning projects or don’t want to incur the cost of hiring someone. Even if there’s bandwidth, sometimes organizations just want someone with the scanning expertise. They don’t want to reinvent the wheel.

What characteristics do successful scanning operators possess?

Michishima: There really is no key. We have all different types of backgrounds and personalities working here.

When we hire, we require every potential employee to take a scanning test to give us an idea of how well they are going to do on the job. We’ve had potential hires say, “I have so much attention to detail,” or “I’ve done data entry,” and they don’t end up being a good fit. Attention to detail is very important, but the job requires more than that. Maybe you’re efficient at getting a scan done quickly, but you misspell things, or vice versa.

That’s why we put applicants through a real-life scenario. We give them instructions on index fields and other document details.  Their goal is to scan as many documents as accurately as possible in 20 to 30 minutes. It’s not too difficult, but it’s not too easy.

On top of that, someone who is patient and organized will do well. You also have to be open-minded and able to find something interesting in the documents you’re working with; after all, bulk scanning can get repetitive. We’re all caffeine addicts around here!

Scanning Rocks – Don’t take the skills of your scanning expert for granite!

What is the most unexpected scanning project you’ve ever been asked to complete?

Michishima: We’ve had to scan rocks!

Cities will often use rock samples in their presentations on building projects. It might be filler for a landscaping project or a roofing sample. Most of the time, the rocks are just mounted on a poster board, but sometimes a client wants the actual rock indexed and filed. Pictures come in handy for that type of work.

We’ve also scanned well log records on microfilm, which are large and very long. The scanners only take a certain length, so you have to scan each log in sections and then stitch the scanned images together to make a complete picture.

In general, old and oversized documents can be interesting. We’ve encountered blueprints that are missing 80% of the drawings because someone physically cut out part of the drawing from the file. Sometimes blueprints are protected in plastic and we have to figure out how to scan through the material. Plus, it’s interesting to see how far back historic documents and newspaper clippings go. We’ve run across articles on famous athletes and celebrities.

What are common misconceptions about scanning?

Michishima: Many people don’t understand what goes into scanning. Often, a client is going to destroy their paper files or put them in storage and never look at them again. The scanned image becomes the original, so we’re concerned with more than just the time it takes to scan something. We’re looking at quality control on the image and processing: Are the images straight? Are the images too dark or too light?

Organizations will also come to us thinking that they want to index digital files in the exact way they’ve always filed their paper documents. A question I always ask is “How often do you actually have to find this?” If you’re not really going to access something labeled “Case File #1” regularly, then there’s no reason to keep categorizing your digital file that same way.

When we do an initial needs analysis, we like to take actual working file—the worst file, preferably —to see how to work with it. We look for things like what pages need to be scanned in grey scale or any legends that need to be scanned in color. We come back to the client with notes and show them how the scanned files can be processing and indexed differently than the paper files.

There are all kinds of best practices that we try to educate our clients about in initial meetings. It can be simple things like only using black and blue pen pens, using a specific color of paper or sticking to certain kinds of stamps. For organizations that want to go completely paperless, they learn a lot about their files and doing things from a business process standpoint.

Also, we’ve had people staple every single page together. Sometimes there are staples all over the place on a page. I’ve seen many crazy accordion style staple patterns. It’s just part of the job.

Looking to take your organization paperless? Not sure how you should go about starting your next scanning project? Get your copy of  “The Ultimate Guide to Document Scanning” today!