Magazine article Information Today

Microfilm Still Matters in the Digital Age

Magazine article Information Today

Microfilm Still Matters in the Digital Age

Article excerpt

Difficult as it may be to believe in this digital world, the microfilm business is still going strong. ProQuest, which has the largest commercially available microform collection in the world, adds millions of microfilm images each year. The New York Public Library and other institutions continue to house microfilm for their patrons. And companies such as ST Imaging create new products that make microfilm viewing a simple, easy-to-use process for researchers.

Staying Power

Chris Cowan, ProQuest's VP of product management, believes there are three reasons microfilm has not gone the way of the floppy disk: archival value, ownership ability, and highly specialized microfilm-only information.

Microfilm can last more than 500 years if it is stored under the correct temperature and humidity conditions, making it the best archival medium available, according to Cowan. Digital data actually degrades due to bit rot, the deterioration of electronic programs or files after a period of no usage. "[T]he data begins to erode in little increments, but steadily it gets worse. So there's a reliability, long term, in being able to have the content" on microfilm, he says.

Librarians can physically add microfilm to their collections, "and it's not on a subscription type of basis where it's an annual leasing of access to content," says Cowan. They can own the microfilm permanently as part of their institutions' content holdings.

Some information will never be digitized, says Cowan, because digitization is not a feasible venture for every company that owns content. "For instance, with our newspapers at ProQuest, we've digitized 40 newspapers from around the globe, and most of it [is] the full backfile of that newspaper's title. And when you add up those 40 papers, it's about 30 million pages' worth of newspaper content. In our vault, for microfilm newspapers, we have over 10,000 newspapers. And about 2 billion pages of content.... [E]ven with 12 years [spent so far] digitizing newspapers, we're really only getting the tip of the iceberg."

Denise Hibay, head of collections development at the New York Public Library, says many patrons "on some level still prefer microfilm. I do believe a lot have switched loyalties and have gone to digital as they've understood its benefits," she says. But they "still find the microfilm medium really preferred to browse large quantities of content."

A Hands-On Product

Pick a color, any color. That's the promise of ST Imaging's ST ViewScan II System, a minimicrofilm reader that comes in customized colors. …

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