Is it Time to Digitise your Microfiche Public Records and Archives?
Written by: Tim Myatt
Publish Date: May 4, 2021
Read time: 8 minutes
Microfiche has a wide range of uses and has, historically, been adopted by those looking to archive print media. It’s particularly well suited to:
- Historical records
The format has had a huge impact on the recording and archiving of public records and documents suited as it is to the long-term storage of print media. As a result, libraries across the UK are bastions for large microfiche archives that chart the history of an area. Both libraries and microfiche perform a major role in the preservation of historical records and should be appreciated for it - but is it time for these public archives to be digitised?
The wider benefits of digitising your microfiche & microfilm are clear to see. We’ve written pretty extensively about the key drivers to doing so here. Many of these drivers are applicable to the public sector and public records. Let’s have a look at them from a public sector perspective.
Physical media is constrained to occupying physical space. If you have no one visiting your library, then you have no one accessing the public records and archives. Digitising your records, particularly at a time when libraries have limited to no access, enables you to make the data available to patrons 24/7. Consider helping your regular patrons with this virtual archive at a time when many people have plenty of time on their hands.
EDM's team of specialists have developed an efficient document scanning process, so we have put together a useful infographic to act as a visual aid to explain the process and how your organisation can benefit from it, click below to download it:
As far as we can tell, digital media will outlive microform and microfiche. It’s increasingly difficult to maintain microform readers and film. Whereas even if the current default digital file types (TIFF & PDF) change in the future, there’s a strong possibility that converting to the new file type will be a simple operation. In the same way that your word processor allows you to export in multiple common formats. At its core, digitisation offers a way of extending the life span of records and archives. This should be an obligation for local authorities.
Security & safety
Digitised records can be encrypted and kept secure with far more ease than physical files and can be duplicated and backed instantaneously. It’s far more difficult to accidentally corrupt or destroy digital records. Not to mention the massive reduction in wear and tear of the actual film and readers.
There’s a more philosophical question at play also. If your local authority or library is the sole archive of crucial historical records, they’re leaving themselves open to destruction through natural disaster.
Knowing that the public sector and local amenities are always pushed to find cost-cutting measures, digitising your microfiche can offer a solution. Removing large bulky archives can free up real estate for alternative purposes. Digital is simply a more efficient use of space.
Maintaining ageing microfiche and microfilm equipment is progressively more expensive as reliability decreases and parts become rarer and rarer. The cost of maintaining a small server, cloud storage or Electronic Document Management service pales in comparison.
Is the use of microfiche off-putting?
For people born in the last 30 year or so. Microfiche technology is somewhat alien. Large microfiche reader screens line dusty corners of libraries and people don’t know how to interact with them. That’s not to say it’s correct but that’s how it is perceived.
At best, there’s a novelty to running these readers but that novelty soon turns to annoyance as you realise that can’t search intelligently and that the whole thing is a very manual process. Digitised microfiche can alleviate this issue. Optical Character Recognition (OCR) technology can bring modern search functionality to your scanned film. Whilst there’s something to be said about diligently reading your records and sources, being able to 'Ctrl+F' and search for keywords can greatly improve accessibility.
Is Microfiche putting off the next generation of local historians?
Perhaps that’s a little excessive but there’s certainly a question to be asked around limited accessibility be it because the technology is intimidating to new users or because libraries are - currently - more difficult to access. If microform is meant to help keep history alive then, in its current state, it’s not doing a good job. Digitising your microfiche archives can help you open them up to more people which is no bad thing.
The question of digitising public records is a complex one. Naturally, there’s a cost to doing so at a time when local authorities may lack funds but we’d also argue that there’s a cost to not doing so. This cost is both cultural, as fewer people engage with their local history, but also economic. You could repurpose your microfiche reading rooms and archives into more productive environments.
We know that there’s a value to your microfiche archives and that outsourcing their scanning could be a concern. We’ve put together an overview of our scanning process - security and all - to help put your mind at ease.
The document scanning process is surprisingly simple, yet delivers maximum business benefit., find out how it all works and how your business can benefit from it in our infographic: