To select between Microfilming and Digitization is a tough call and holding the decision for too long certainly impacts business motives. Although there are different views for both technologies, here I will try to highlight the differences between the scope of the two technologies, to enable you to understand these technologies better and select the appropriate one.
Microfilming: A film on which materials are photographed at greatly reduced size; useful for storage; a magnification system is used to read the material.
Digitization: The process for translating photographs/documents into a digital form that can be recognized by a computer.
As there is a huge difference between the costs incurred and the process adopted for each of the two technologies, explaining each one separately will result in huge documentation, so I will limit this post to the decision making points for selection of appropriate technology as mentioned below:
(a) The first and foremost step is to find out the retention schedule of the document
(b) Second is to find how frequently these documents would need to be accessed
Answers to the above mentioned points and below mentioned guidelines will help you decide the appropriate technology to go for.
Technology Selection Criteria:
(a) If retention is permanent and access is frequent then we suggest Microfilm and Digitization both. As Microfilming will help to archive the document permanently, and damage due to frequent access of the microfilms rolls can be avoided by digitization.
(b) If Retention is permanent and access is rare then we suggest Microfilming as it is a one time process. (this case is rare)
(c) If retention is temporary and access is frequent then Digitization
(d) If retention is temporary and access is rare then Digitization
In today’s scenario many of us may always recommend Digitization and may challenge Microfilming because of following justification:
(1) Cost of microfilming is always higher than scanning as scanners are available for as low as $50 and scanning cost is almost nil, whereas microfilm scanner is much costlier than document scanner, the cost of rolls and processing also adds up to the total cost for every document microfilmed.
(2) Even if documents are classified as Permanent and there is no access, then also we can scan and store it on offline media just like microfilm rolls.
(3) There are formats available such as PDF/A which take care of long term archival and migration of scanned images.
(4) At any time scanned images can be converted to Microfilm easily by Microfilm writer if required.
I also believe that the above mentioned points are valid but the only challenge is the life of media used for digitization which is constantly changing- like today how many of us have floppy drives and zip drives in our PC? Moreover specific software is also required for viewing these images, whereas microfilms are eye readable and can be magnified using light source & lens and the LE rating of microfilm is 500 years.
In spite of the technical challenge mentioned above, I prefer digitization over microfilming, as now a days storage media are cheap (w.r.t number of images it can save), and transferring data from one media to another is also not a challenge. We should also understand that in today’s fast moving business scenario, access of digitized document is more important than simply archiving it. As the information which is not easily accessible is of no use.