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Is Microfilm Use Dying Off?

posted Jun 22, 2015, 11:45 AM by Craig Williams   [ updated Aug 7, 2017, 9:19 AM ]
The idea that microfilm is forever is a false hope and has been for many years.  

The practice of Preservation Microfilm notes, in order to keep microfilm forever one has to duplicate the original negative and replace it with the duplicate as they age. 

This would be much like photo copying the Declaration of Independence. 
With time the words on the page have faded but a copy could take its place for a while but what happens when that copy fades?  
You make another copy.  Have you ever done that?  
Have you taken a copy of a copy and made another copy only to find that the image is almost illegible? 

If you never have done this do this experiment.
Take a good document, we will call this the ORIGINAL, and make a copy....
1: The 1st copy will call 1st Generation..... Compare it to the original...you may not see differences but they are there....
2: NOW set the ORIGINAL face down to your left.
3: Place the just made copy into the copier to make another copy.
4: Now remove the document from glass and place it faces down on the original. 
5: Take the copy and place it into the copier to make a copy.
6: Repeat steps 3 and 5 till you can no longer decipher the image.

How many copies could you make? 
If you have a great copier it may take as many as 10 but it could be as few as 5.  

You see when you copy an image the light is bounced off the document and captured by the device to make the copy much in the same way light is passed thru film to make a duplicate. Light does not penetrate but scatters and because of this the image quality is reduced by about 6% to 12% every generation. So by the time you get to the 5 generation much of the information that was there is gone.....scattered.  So even under perfect conditions maintained microfilm cannot out last maintained data.  

It is simple, data stays the same no matter what.  Need a copy, make one it is exactly the same as the last one. One of the rules of any archive is (LOCKSS) Lots of Copies Keep Stuff Safe...its true look at what happened to the National Personnel Records Center in the fire of 1973. 80% of the records of the US Army personnel from Nov 1912 to Jan 1960 burned along with 75% of the US Air Force record September 1947 to Jan 1964. If there were a copy somewhere else those records would be preserved. They are gone forever. 

Copies systems longevity.  Digital images are so simple to copy, almost anyone can copy a digital image. Digital images are here to stay and have become the mainstay of business operations for decades now. 

So what will happen to microfilm?  It will get too expensive to use for common business use.  Microfilm will be like vinyl records, there will still be those who prefer it but very few. Someday no one will manufacture equipment for it. They may even quit manufacturing film. So like Kodachrome, microfilm will go away eventually. There will probably be a web page reminding our great-grandchildren of it. 
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