Microfilm Questions & Answers:
In Montreal, Canada at the last ARMA Annual Conference a panel discussion took place during the Microfilm Services
Group meeting. The panel was presented with 10 microfilm related questions and asked to respond independently and
interact with the audience. Because of time constraints, all the questions were not addressed. Two of the panel members
have submitted their answers to us. Their short bios follow the Q & As.
If these or other microfilm related questions are of concern you may look for help from any of the Microfilm Services Group
members by using ARMA’s membership web directory, checking the web site:
http://home.earthlink.net/~fyiglover or contacting John Glover at email@example.com
1. What are some innovative ways to impress those who are custodians of vital records that microfiche and microfilm are still
critical formats in protecting their records?
S. R. - “As information management specialists we need to point out the ramifications of investing in new technology from an
obsolescence perspective and demonstrate costs and resources associated with the issue and need for migration plans. From an
access and retrieval vantage, there is little doubt that optical image storage is “near line” and therefore faster to access.
Long-term storage and preservation is the best that microfilm has to offer, in addition to good image quality (all things considered)
and international interoperability.”
K. S. – “September 11, 2001 is the most recent example of why vital records should be duplicated and a copy stored at an off-site
location on long term media.”
2. How can the smaller volume users of microfilm influence and continue to be assured that the micrographics industry will
support ongoing vital records programs?
S.R. – “Vital records programs don’t “own” microfilm as a solution or have the reputation of “best of breed” – organizations
should be choosing the most affordable option for vital records protection, and for shorter life cycles, optical images may be
a good alternative. We cannot assure small users that the industry will support any one application – it boils down to what’s
K. S. - “Continue to ask for industry support. “
3. In order to have the benefits of both analogue and digital should I microfilm first and then scan the film, scan the documents
and then create the film or capture both analogue and digital images at the same time on a hybrid system?
S. R. – “The best way to determine the preferred approach would be to cost out the alternatives – handling the documents twice
seems an expensive alternative; scanning film has an excellent track record, providing the images are of relatively good quality.
Hybrid systems also have good track records – the cost of the alternative should be a deciding factor along with any constraints
of the approach and associated risk.”
K. S. – “In Pennsylvania, Recorder of Deeds offices are currently scanning and then creating microfilm and microfiche from the
digital images (the microfiche is for backup in the office and the microfilm rolls are for security storage at an off-site location).
This seems to work well for their current records and the film produced is clear and densities are consistent. Of course, many
records are already captured on film (of varying quality); in these cases the film is digitized and placed on CD-ROM. The quality
of the end product is not always good because the quality of the digital image is based on the quality of the film.
Factors to consider include business needs and requirements, budget, quality and type of the documents and the type of equipment
Note: One of the other panelists responded with; “I don’t know what the answer is but isn’t it great we have so many options?”
4. With so much information available on-line and electronic, why bother to microfilm?
S. R. – “Electronic and digital information that need to be retained for long periods of time fail the “test of time”. Managing
tape in special environments and rewinding/cleaning at regular intervals is expensive but necessary; optical disks and that entire
family (CD, DVD, RW, MO etc.) suffer from (proven) image degradation and media obsolescence, in addition to the challenges of
obsolete software and hardware. Film suffers none of these problems if manufactured, processed and stored according to the standard.
In addition, a diazo copy will survive 100 years (ANSI standard) with no special environmental or handling restrictions (other than
K. S. – “Microfilm is a preservation tool. It provides a human readable back up to records that must be maintained permanently.
The life expectancy for silver halide wet processed film is 500 years; can this be said for computer hardware and software?
Considering the events of 9/11/01, electronic information could be seen as a fragile media for storage of records that are vital
to the workings of government. It is more secure to have a microfilm backup of a vital record at an off-site location, even if
the user copy is on electronic media.”
5. Does your company/agency actively promote the use of micrographics, and if so, what techniques or resources do you use?
S. R. – “RIM Technologies promotes microfilm as an affordable alternative in certain applications. The mere fact that microfilm is
cheaper and will endure far longer is sufficient that it be considered a contender.”
K.S. – “Yes. Pennsylvania offers outreach programs including training classes, marketing presentations, newsletters,
participation at Government Information Technology Conferences, etc.”
6. Are you still using microfilm to capture images of non-permanent business records? What criteria do you use to answer the
microfilm vs. electronic question?
S. R. - “see other responses.”
K. S. – “Yes. Records are kept in accordance with Agency Records Retention and Disposition Schedules. We provide technical
consultation to State Agency program staff to help them evaluate and determine the best formats(s) that meet their business needs.“
7. Do you use microfilm in an on-going disaster prevention/disaster recovery program?
S. R. “see #5 response.”
K. S. – “Microfilm is used as a human readable back up of records that are vital or that must be kept permanently.”
8. In your experience, has microfilm been able to withstand the test of time, and can you provide examples of applications that did
last in excess of 50 years?
S. R. – “Microfilm easily withstands the test of time. In one client’s application, film was created in the mid 1940’s and still has
good “playback” capabilities. Hermetic sealing is an option that organizations may wish to pursue to eliminate the need for special
environment conditions for storage.”
K. S. – “Two of the best examples are newspapers and deeds recorded on film. Many of these rolls were filmed from 1948 to the present. The technical qualities of many of the newspapers are good, and except for deeds that were microfilmed for “copy-flow”* purposes, many of the deeds films are clear and readable. The “copy-flow” rolls contain many splices and the densities vary. All these films are still being copied and used when documents in the office are lost. The major problem that affects the life span of these films is the fact that the film created up through the 1970’s is on an acetate base. For these rolls to continue to be viable, silver copies on polyester based film must be made at some point in the future.
*Copy flow is a process where each book was filmed separately and then spliced together; the films were used to create a paper copy,
which was then bound into a book format.
9. Where can we find qualified speakers who are knowledgeable in micrographics?
S.R. – “Work with ARMA in Identifying individuals who identify micrographics as one of their areas of expertise – i.e. develop a
speakers database; additionally, put out a call for “experienced professionals in Micrographics” via listserv or some other mass
K. S. – “AIIM, ARMA, State and Local Government Officials, Vendors, Technical Schools.”
10. Since the microfilm market is mature and diminishing is there any longer a need for a Standards Committee?
S. R. – “Perhaps the need for an active Standards committee has diminished but there is an ongoing need for ensure no new standards
are needed and for collaborative work between film based imaging and optical imaging…”
K. S. – “Standards continue to be important. In fact the standards industry is international at this point. The microfilm market as
it once was has changed dramatically with the advent of electronic record keeping. But, the need for an “archival” security backup
for important, permanent and vital records has not changed. With the new technologies, specifically creating microfilm from digital
images, standards must be updated to ensure that vendors producing this computer generated microfilm are regulated and produce film
that is readable and of high quality.
Sharon Robertson is the President of RIM Technologies Inc.; a Calgary based firm specializing in all aspects of information and image
She has been a member of ARMA, CIIMS and AIIM for many years and has also served on the local ARMA Board and at the International level
in numerous capacities (Education IAC and Education Development Committee). From 1987 to April of 1994, Sharon taught and coordinated
a certificate program in Records & Information Management at Mount Royal College. She has also developed and delivered custom designed,
client specific educational modules, through the ARMA Education Workshop program and the Technology Training Institute.
Sharon has presented numerous topics for ARMA International, including full day institutes on micrographics and optical imaging, and
served as the 1995 Region VIII Conference Program Chair. During her tenure as Calgary ARMA Chapter president, Sharon produced a
24-minute video on Records and Information Management, widely used as a training tool by many chapters.
Kathy M. Smith is the Director of the Records Administration and Image Services Division at the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum
Commission. Since 1992 she has served in this leadership position responsible for Pennsylvania’s State Government Records Management
From 1975-1992 Ms. Smith served in various management positions in the Department of Environmental Protection with specific
responsibilities focused on providing a comprehensive records management program and implementing a microfilm conversion project.
Ms. Smith is a 2000 graduate of the Leadership Development Institute for Women in State Government (LDI) and serves as an alumni
board member. Kathy also attended Harrisburg Area Community College, Business Administration; is past president of the Keystone
Chapter, AIIM; past treasurer of the Central PA Chapter of ARMA.