Scanning Microfilm Archives
| | Duncan Lord

Embracing Digital Transformation for Microfilm Archives

Historically, microfilm has been like a guardian, preserving historical records. It was once hailed as the perfect way of consolidating large volumes of documents into compact format and extending the longevity of information.

Yet, as we try to balance preservation with accessibility, and we continue to become more technologically mature, the limitations of microfilm have become increasingly evident.

 

Not only does microfilm decay if not properly stored, but it also presents several other challenges.

Specialist hardware for viewing microfilm is both outdated and expensive to maintain, creating accessibility barriers. Locating and reproducing specific frames within the film is time-consuming, causing onerous additional steps and a drain on resources.

Microfilm’s inflexibility compounds these challenges, with reproduction into usable formats proving resource heavy and costly. Storage issues further complicate matters, often resulting in off-site or archive room storage, detached from the front line staff requiring access. Retrieving the correct microfiche or roll film can be hit-and-miss, decreasing efficiency.

Additionally, microfilm is considered dark data, limiting cross-referencing and keyword searchability compared to digital documents.

 

A Victorian Government Department’s experience with ‘Vinegar Syndrome’

The physical degradation of microfilm over time poses a significant risk to data integrity. The acetate-based microfilm in general use until the 1990s can break down when exposed to fluctuating temperatures, humidity, or pollutants.

So, if storage environments are less than ideal, something known as ‘vinegar syndrome,’ can occur. This is cellulose degradation of the emulsion that can lead to flaking and lifting of the emulsion causing the film to become unreadable and loss of critical information.

Recently, a large Victorian Government Department faced the daunting reality of its deteriorating microfilm collection.

The repository began to emit a strong acetate, vinegary odour, signalling decay and imminent loss of information.

 

So, they turned to Avantix for a solution

Fortunately, the solution to not only vinegar syndrome, but also the plethora of other challenges lies in digitisation.

For the Government Department, an Avantix specialist in microfilm conducted an audit, assessing the condition and volume by record type, highlighting the risks and urgency for action.  Through this consultative process, it was recommended that digitisation was the optimal path forward. Based on this advice, this department initiated the digitisation project which resulted in a significant volume of records converted to a digital format.  Consisting of;

  • 35 million images of 16mm roll film
  • 10 million images from microfiche
  • 140,000 STAT files
  • 250,000 Aperture Cards

 

Effectively preserving their invaluable data for regular access and analysis in perpetuity.

Microfilm scanning enabled this Department to offer easier access, improved retrieval lead time, enhanced searchability through OCR recognition, preservation against degradation, and secure centralised storage. The metadata tagging and quality control measures Avantix implemented now ensure reliability, while backup and redundancy safeguard against disaster or data loss.

Integration with the Department’s Electronic Document and Records Management System (EDRMS) brought these legacy records in line with their modern digital framework. With the microfilm collection now digitised, the department confidently closed down their repository, knowing that its data was secure and accessible. The transformation of archives into digital assets, through microfilm scanning, represents a pivotal moment in our journey toward a more accessible and sustainable future.

 

If you are faced with any of the typical challenges of accessing, maintaining, and consolidating your microfilm collection, it’s time to chat with Avantix.