October 1998


Penny Lunt

New and sleeker storage technologies come and go, but microfilm's been holding its ground for an entire century. Here's a look at the latest products and the latest uses of microfilm that complement digital storage

Microfilm scanner manufacturers bring a unique perspective to document storage. They boast about how ugly their machines are. They have their own term for people who store exclusively electronically: "digital bigots." They're zealous advocates for the benefits of microfilm.

With the Year 2000 just around the corner and storage formats and media changing every few years, who can blame them? Microfilm is the one tested, tried-and-true form of long-term document storage. Wet film has a life expectancy of 500 years and dry film 100 years. Any film, no matter how dated, can be read from any reader/printer (as long as it hasn't completely faded). Some can be read with nothing more than a magnifying glass and a light source.

Microfilm doesn't put you through the potential pain of data migration, points out Kenneth Kopaid, vice-president and general manager, Fuji Photo Film and co-chair of AIIM's Film-based Imaging Member Council.

"Look at floppy disks," he says. "Sony and Fuji are in a joint venture to develop a new 200 meg floppy disk that looks just like a 1.44 megabyte disk. The new drives coming out will be backward compatible with the 1.44 meg disk. But they're not forward compatible. Ten years from now, when the hardware you have has been discontinued for five years, how are you going to read the old disks? You'll always be able to read microfilm."

Microfilm's near-fatal flaw is that it's slow at retrieving documents. Somebody has to find a particular roll of film or jacket of fiche, put it in a microfilm reader and then find the right frame. It's a very manual process. That's why many organizations do not rely completely on microfilm; they use it to complement their digital storage.

People who don't have any microfilm but desire its benefits are doing one or more of three things. One, they're buying a hybrid scanner that scans paper and simultaneously produces microfilm and digital images. Two, they're capturing paper with a microfilm camera and then running that film through a microfilm scanner to produce digital images. Three, they're gathering scanned images and electronically created files and printing them onto microfilm using a computer output to microfilm (COM) device.

Companies that already have a lot of microfilm are scanning and digitizing it so that the files are retrievable at a keystroke. Some owners of microfilm archives are scanning on demand, digitizing only frequently used microfilm frames or rolls as they're requested. Others go for an all-out conversion, digitizing their entire warehouse of microfilm in one project. You can either get a service bureau to handle the conversion for you or you can do it yourself. A service bureau cr~ charge up to $1 per image with indexing.

It may be less expensive per page to buy a production scanner to do it yourself, but you have to have the staff, the time and the commitment to in-house conversion.