Digitization, hmmmm.

I am all for digitizing everything, photos, letters, anything that interests me, etc. to reduce the amount of albums and things around my home. I am even for digitizing old photos, postcards, etc. at OHA, and the thought of the “ancient” art of analog microfilm really grosses me out.


And then I attended a seminar given by Toya Dubin of Hudson Microimaging, Inc. At first I wasn’t totally convinced about microfilm and microfiche (who likes to go the library and be told they have to search an entire roll of microfilm to *maybe* find what they’re looking for anyway) until she showed us these numbers:

1 pixel at 600 dpi is 1/600th of an inch wide, or 40 microns wide.

1 silver halide crystal is 0.1 micron wide so 160,000 silver halide crystals will fit inside a 600 dpi pixel.

Holy Silver Halide, Batman! Not only this, but microfilm / microfiche has an expected lifetime of 500 years, with a known lifetime of 140 years – there’s some French microfilm that is still readable from 140 years ago.

Digitization is *not* considered a long term preservation method in most cases. Case in point, do you own any 5.25″ disks, and if so, do you have a computer that can read them? Remember the 3.5″ disks? My laptop doesn’t even have a 3.5″ disk drive – not only that, my previous laptop didn’t either, because I opt for CD / DVD. And speaking of DVD’s, you know that all of your DVD’s are considered old technology, right? While we race to keep our digital storage up to date, microfilm is still hanging around as the best preservation technology.

So the optimal solution is to scan the original documents from 600-3600 dpi and save them as tiff files, then use OCR to attempt to get as many words correct on each page as possible, manually correct the words that are wrong, and wah-la, you’ll end up with an index of your documents. The next step is to film the digital index onto the beginning or end of the microfilm, then film the original documents using 8-bit grayscale, especially if there are B&W photos. The end result? You’ll have an online, searchable index of the items that you are putting on microfilm / microfiche! And a roll of high-quality microfilm from which you can make a hardcopy.

Once you have your completed microfilm / microfiche, the next ideal situation is to store a second copy of all of your microfilm / microfiche in a storage location meant to store this type of thing (60 degrees F, 40% humidity) – ideally at a location not in the same flood plain where you have your original microfilm / microfiche.

One of the drawbacks of microfilming is you can’t do it in color for preservation purposes because color doesn’t last.

I also found out I should be scanning my Grandparents’ slides at 3600 dpi. I’ve been scanning them at 600 dpi. At least I knew to save them as tiff images. Sigh.

This doesn’t mean that I like microfilm any more than I did before, I guess I have respect for it now. I’m still going to digitize everything in sight.


4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Susan Gets Native
    Nov 20, 2006 @ 22:05:17

    I like microfilm, just for the historic feeling I get.
    I think a lot about a book I read a while back, 3000, by Arthur C. Clarke. In the book, an elctromagnetic pulse destroyed all the digital records in America, so all the records only go back to sometime in the middle of the 23 rd century. Imagine if that happened now? Our lives would come to a screeching halt.
    Sorry, didn’t mean to be a downer.
    At least we have people like you who are preserving our stuff!


  2. Pam
    Nov 21, 2006 @ 11:13:25

    That’s good Susan! All of our digitally stored items *could* go *zap!* in an instant. I’m glad there’s people like Toya to bring people back to reality – that film is *still* the way to go as far as preservation!


  3. Sandy
    Nov 21, 2006 @ 17:14:45

    Didn’t know any of this! I am sure glad we have record keepers!


  4. Pam
    Nov 21, 2006 @ 21:42:27

    Hi Sandy, me too. Unfortunately there would be more recorded if there was more money to do it.


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