In 1839, English scientist John Benjamin Dancer created the initial concept of what is now called microfilm. Over the next few decades, others integrated new technologies and innovations into this concept, and a French optician developed something more akin to modern microfilm around 1870. This technology was even used to send documents via tiny microfilm rolls on carrier pigeons during wars at the time.
By the early 20th century, innovations such as the 35mm camera and other technology made way for microfilm developments that supported large-scale business use, including document storage for banks, libraries, and media establishments.
Microfilm as a technology dates back more than 150 years, and it's still considered a critically important document archival tool today. Yet, as digital document and archival methods become increasingly popular, it's natural to consider whether microfilm still has a role to play. However, it remains one of the most stable options for document archival available, and the evolution of technology influences, rather than mitigates, the use of microfilm today.
Digital and Microfilm: The Perfect Hybrid Storage Method
Digitization is a high priority for all kinds of organizations moving into 2024 and beyond. Technology removes many barriers, opening the door to data for people all over the globe. It's a mission that most archivists can usually get behind — after all, their duty is to ensure that information is preserved for use by those in the future.
Going digital with documents and data allows audiences to access and study primary sources and other information with unprecedented ease. It also supports a growing number of business processes, including automations and machine learning.
And yet, microfilm continues to exist alongside digital. Its persistence as one of the most stable, cost-effective and tested archival methods in history means many organizations — from libraries and governments to commercial enterprises — hold a place for it in their processes.
Microfilm has a projected shelf life of 500 years, making it a solid safety net in a world where data disaster recovery plans are becoming increasingly important.
On top of its stability, microfilm is simple. To view documents in this format, all you need is a light source and magnification tool. Even if every piece of existing microfilm-viewing hardware disappeared, the films could be easily viewed or even scanned with other technologies. When compared to the quickly evolving digital document and data landscape, which can be costly for organizations to keep up with, microfilm provides a level of security that digital cannot.
Technology Advancements in Microfilm Scanners
The microfilm scanners and viewers of the past — even those prevalent just a few decades ago — might be considered technological dinosaurs compared to modern microfilm scanners. While it's true that you only need a light source and magnification to view microfilm documents, today's scanners do so much more.
Modern scanners support features such as editing capability, auto-adjustment for higher-quality outputs, and integrated Optical Character Recognition. Instead of capturing flat images of documents, OCR technology creates dynamic documents that can be searchable while also supporting the automation of digital archive best practices such as tagging and keywords.
- SPOT-Edit™, which lets you adjust contrast or brightness on a single area of the image. Viewers can darken or lighten certain areas of the document to increase readability without negatively impacting areas that are already perfectly legible.
- On-demand multifunctionality, which supports reading, scanning, and printing in a desktop format. The scanner also works with a variety of film types for convenience and to reduce multiple machine needs.
- AUTO-Adjust™ and continual image focus, which work together to ensure a legible, clear document and efficient processes for cropping, selecting, and printing.
The Current Significance of Microfilm
Conversion to digital formats is a major point of focus moving forward. Going into 2024, many organizations will likely set digital conversions of documentation and records as a top priority. And that's a smart objective, as digital formats can offer a number of benefits that microfilm and other analog archival methods don't.
However, even in this environment, microfilm remains highly relevant as a useful, stable option for record-keeping. Governments continue to use microfilm as a way to safeguard a variety of records, including vital records such as birth certifications, marriage licenses, death certificates, and adoption paperwork, for example.
Even in cases where these records are digitized, the microfilm backups take up little room, are easy to store, and ensure the information is accessible in the future regardless of technological changes or digital disasters. Businesses, libraries, museums, and many other agencies continue to take the same approach, leveraging microfilm as the final backup for the most critical data.
Technology and Microfilm March On
Microfilm has evolved a lot over the years. What used to be a standalone way to securely archive documents in a cost-effective manner has become an integrated method for working with documents and data. But unlike many technologies that evolve, microfilm adds new benefits without ever giving up its old ones.
Moving into 2024 and beyond, innovations in microfilm scanning are likely to continue, with increasing integrations that leverage the benefits of technologies such as the cloud or artificial intelligence.
Start 2024 strong with impressive microfilm scanning technology.