​Back to school looks different this year but research looks the same

We’ve reached that point in the calendar we commonly refer to as “back to school.” Of course, there’s very little typical about back to school this year – the COVID pandemic has ensured that. Some schools are returning with mask requirements and increased distance between students. Other schools are shifting to online “distance learning.” Still more schools are torn about how to proceed and undecided about their path forward.

Regardless of what form education takes in the coming months and years, it will still mean plenty of projects, experiments and papers – and that means research. No matter how much information we believe to be online these days, there’s still even more only available offline. If everything we needed was indeed online, there would be no need for our libraries full of books, journals, periodicals – and of course, microfilm!

Despite the 21st century’s digital surge, many libraries still prefer microfilm for archiving, and most still maintain microform collections because of its advantages. Consider just the format of newspapers and magazines – which are vital records of history, especially on a local and regional level. In its original format, newsprint tends to be fragile, not to mention bulky and heavy to store. Original copies are also unlikely to be lent through interlibrary loan. But newspapers on microfilm remains a viable and reliable preservation strategy – as it has since the 1940s – because it maintains file integrity, contextual data sequence (and important for libraries it discourages theft of irreplaceable originals).

Importantly coinciding with digital transformation, today’s microfilm readers (like the ScanPro All-in-One) are evolving to do more than simply scroll and print. Modern machines are designed to work with all the formats modern students and researchers need. They can search, print, share and convert into digital format.

Microfilm machines are still in use at libraries of all levels of education because their simplicity, reliability and utility make them valuable and significant to research. And it’s unlikely they’ll be disappearing anytime soon. As an article from the Denver Public Library succinctly put it, “Even if we, and every other institution, started massive digitization projects today, there is so much material that's been microfilmed that it would be decades before it all made it online. Until that day comes, we'll still be using microfilm and it will still be as useful as it is today."

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