As an information storage medium, photographic film was used for decades before digital formats came into existence. As a result, many government and institutional archives are still stored on microformats like microfiche or microfilm.
Understanding microfiche as a storage medium
Microfiche is a transparent sheet of photographic film, usually 105mm by 148mm, capable of storing information in miniaturized form. The miniaturized images are typically reduced to 4% or 1/25th of their original size. These photographic images are of documents and are too small to read with the naked eye and require special machines, called microfiche readers, that magnify and project the microform images on a display screen for the user to view. The devices allow you to adjust the focus of the image for clarity, rotate it or zoom in or out to read the information. Some microfiche readers also have printing capabilities.
Why use microfiche to store information?
Microfiche was used to store historical documents because the material was durable and retained its quality for as long as 500 years.
It could store large volumes of information and documents within a small physical footprint. A single microfiche film can hold dozens of records, so imagine how much data you can store in a filing cabinet full of such microfiche! Microfiche has been used to preserve high-volume archival documents, journals, books, newspapers and magazines.
Many companies still have large libraries of microform archives. But organizations are now opting for other archival storage options. Most companies have now moved to digital storage of documents.
So what happens to all the data stored on microfiche and microfilm?
Microfiche scanning: Transform information from microform to digital
The best way to transform microfiche records into digital formats is by scanning microfiche using specialty microfiche scanners. Digitization allows easy search, retrieval and distribution of valuable archival information. Keeping historical data in a digital record-keeping system has many benefits over microfiche storage.
There are many disadvantages of storing information on microfiche:
- Microfiche is difficult to store: Microfiche is highly durable, but that's only true if you store it in a highly controlled environment that protects the film from environmental changes in temperature and humidity. It is not easy to achieve high levels of control in old storage areas in the present day. Digital formats are far more convenient and easy to store, especially with cloud-based storage becoming easily accessible and affordable.
- Image quality issues: Microfiche sheets can degrade over time if it is read and re-read using a machine. So, working copies of the original microfiche are used, and the master copy is preserved to ensure that information is not lost. If these best practices are not followed strictly, there can be image quality issues - sometimes, the degradation can be so severe that the information is not retrievable.
- Long retrieval times: Retrieving information from microfiche can be very time-consuming. As it is a physical form of storage, there is no easy search functionality to find the information you need. You may have to review many pages to locate a particular keyword or a critical paragraph. Besides, since you cannot read the images with the naked eye, you must rely on a microfiche reader that may not be freely available when you need it.
5 important considerations before scanning microfiche
So while scanning microfiche content to a digital format is the way forward, you need to keep some important points in mind when planning your microfiche conversion project:
- Assess if the microfiche originals are in good condition: Image clarity is a critical consideration before starting your conversion project. Especially if you plan to use optical character recognition (OCR) technology for automatic data extraction, you need the microfiche to be in good condition. Any damage to the film can cause problems in extracting the information on the microfiche.
- Determine the volume of microfiche to be scanned: Large projects require specialized high-speed microfiche scanners. You will also need expert technicians to manage high volumes of records, organize the filing and classification of documents and keep a tab on scanning time and project costs.
- Get a grip on the budget you have available: When budgets are large and available at a single shot, you can organize a one-time scanning effort to digitize all legacy records in one go. However, if the budget is to be split into multiple installments or if sufficient funds for the whole project are not readily available, you can opt to scan a set number of microfiche every month to fit your budget.
- Do you need some active files digitized first or on priority? What are the timelines of the project? A scan-on-demand service is where you only scan those microfiches that are immediately needed in digital format. You can take up the lower priority ones at a later date or opt for a phased approach.
- Choose the right scanning company with enough experience handling legacy microfiche: Scanning microfiche is a complex process. Legacy records may have degraded with time. You need experts who understand the challenges of working with fragile, legacy microfiche records and have the experience to get the best results from the scanning to preserve the information contained on the microfiche. Partnering with a reputed scanning company for your microfiche conversion project is recommended.
Benefits of scanning microfiche records
- Microfiche scanning creates a digital archive that is searchable using a robust document management system. This means you can do keyword searches or search out a text string and retrieve the information you need quickly and reliably.
- Once digitized, multiple users in different locations can access the archives remotely and at the same time without the need for specialized equipment.
- Quick and efficient information retrieval enhances productivity and helps you achieve positive ROI on your digitization investment.
- Digital files can be access-controlled so that sensitive data and documents are only accessible to authorized persons, enhancing information security.
- Updating your microfiche archives to digital files allows you to free up costly storage space and utilize a more affordable cloud data storage system.
- Long-term preservation of microfiche requires proper handling techniques by trained workers. On the other hand, handling digitally stored documents doesn't require special training.
- Lastly, digitization is essential to re-design processes for hybrid offices and support remote working formats.
DRS Imaging: Your partner in microfiche scanning and digital transformation
DRS Imaging is your best choice for microfiche digitization. Scanning microfiche requires special scanners. At DRS, we use advanced microfiche scanners with features such as automatic film scanning, autofocusing and image adjustment, along with a high-resolution camera for superior quality images. Once scanned, the digital images are indexed to make search and retrieval easy.
Mercury, our enterprise content management system, helps you to intelligently capture data and extract critical information from scanned microfiche. It is the ideal way to reduce storage costs, minimize compliance risks and make records accessible and secure.
Talk to DRS for a smooth transition of your legacy microfiche environment to a digital enterprise content management platform that makes information accessible and provides a user-friendly interface to perform searches and retrieve documents.