“Reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated”: microfilm and digital preservation

For a long time, I’ve been hearing people tell me that microfilm is going the way of the dodo – there are no machines able to read it (torch and magnifying glass?), digital access is better (possibly), the film is not being produced and, of course, using microfilm makes people seasick (true, but so does whizzing through a website – it’s a visual perception problem).  But it seems that microfilm is making a comeback, and in the realm of digital preservation, of all places.

I’ve been doing my homework for the next set of lecture notes on digital preservation.  I’ve refreshed my understanding of universally unique identifiers (uuid) and looked at current research and advice in the persistent url field (see, for example, Australian National Data Service [ANDS] – http://ands.org.au/guides/persistent-identifiers-working.html). I’m across the OAIS model and ISO 14721, in a generic, non-technological way, and I have been working with my colleague at SROWA on the Archivematica digital preservation software.

But, I’m a belt and braces kind of girl, and deep down, in my heart, I like microfilm.  I’ve been aware of the PEVIAR project (http://www.peviar.ch/index_en.php) for some time, but hadn’t seen anything more about it since the move to the commercial sector, so I was quite excited when I became aware of S.W. Schilke’s (2010) paper on the use of microfilm to preserve digitised and digital documents in what appears to be an upgraded form of Computer Output Microfilm.  Not only does Schilke suggest that digitised documents, and those that are created digitally but which we view in human readable format (pdf, word docs, spreadsheets, images), be copied to microfilm for preservation, but that, through the use of barcode software, we can save machine readable data as ones and zeroes, too. I’ve been on the hunt since then for further documentation, and I’d dearly love to hear from anyone who has instituted a hybrid digital/microfilm data preservation strategy, or is looking at it with real intent.


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Archivist, historian, avid reader

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