The Future of Microfilm

Posted by admin on Sep 25, 2008

Quotes from Paul Negus (The Microfilm Shop) presentation to National Preservation Office, British Library:

– The Green Sheet magazine managed to interview Agfa and Kodak and got these replies:- From Agfa – “Agfa are therefore convinced that, unless a true alternative is found, there will probably always be a demand for microfilm”, “…, Agfa see that decline (microfilm usage) flattening out to the hard core of microfilm users”, “At present Agfa are working on specific microfilm related projects (e.g. environmentally-friendly products)” – From Kodak – “Microfilm continues to be a viable archive medium”, “For the future, we see opportunities in making efforts to simplify the interface between digital and film as being one of the key developments” and “our microfilm film products are currently produced in the newest and most sophisticated coating facility that Kodak operates”.

– Next year I know of two new companies who will enter this market. As a result the way microfilm is created is starting to change – from conventional microfilm cameras to document scanners and then dropping that digital image to film through a “Film writer” device. There are also some very large microfilm projects happening at the moment – In Ireland the South Eastern Health Board is currently filming 22 million patient records onto microfilm, over 30 countries now use microfilm to store their Census data, both the UK and US 2010 and 2011 Census’s are looking at the potential to use microfilm again as the storage medium of choice.

New Uses for Microfilm

Datawitness, a Canadian company has developed a unique web hosted environment to allow users to pass and share documents with each other electronically, with a full audit system and an automatic write to microfilm feature. This system was initially developed for the legal market to allow contracts and negotiations to be conducted electronically with full version control, user confirmation details, audit of every communication and sign off ability. It was soon realised that the system could be used by any enterprise to gain the advantages of full electronic distribution of information with the safety of complete analogue microfilm back up.

e-timecapsule – by developing the Datawitness technology the e-timecapsule project allows subscribers to upload information through a web portal. This information is then automatically downloaded to microfilm for ultimate storage in a time capsule that will be buried for 100 years at Stonehenge. It should provide an excellent record of everyday activity for future generations.

The Fraunhofer Institute in Germany has been working on technology to write binary code down to colour microfilm in the form of coloured wave patterns. Current research suggest that one roll of 35mm colour microfilm could hold at least 2 Terra bytes of information.

The above new technologies show that there are many emerging new uses for microfilm in the general digital preservation market but the next question to ask is why is a “different” technology like microfilm required for long term storage of digital information:

– We interviewed our top 20 microfilm users and the over riding consensus amongst them was “There is currently no proper alternative to microfilm for long term preservation for Archivists.”

– As mentioned both the UK and US 2000 and 2001 Census’s are on microfilm as are the Census records of another 30 countries.

– In the USA over 20 States now require an eye readable copy of all important information, they say this must be paper or microfilm.

– The Doomsday book was scanned and the images written onto 12 inch video disks in the 1980’s. A lot of this information was subsequently irretrievable due to technology and software obsolescence. The irony was that the original paper version is still in tact and readable after 1000 years.

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