In another article in this newsletter, I quoted a recent decision by a county commission concerning the purchase of a new microfilm reader for that county's historical and genealogical library. The article focused on the decision of whether or not to pay $3,500 for the purchase of the new microfilm reader/printer.
$3,500 for a soon-to-be-obsolete piece of equipment? That is a lot of money!
I have written several times about the growing obsolescence of microfilm. To be sure, there are millions of reels of microfilm still in use today in various genealogy libraries, archives, family history centers and other locations around the world. We certainly cannot throw our microfilm readers away today. However, the creation of new microfilms has now almost stopped, and millions of dollars are being spent to convert existing microfilms to digital format.
FamilySearch, the genealogy operation sponsored by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the Mormons) has now almost ceased sending cameras out to create new microfilms. FamilySearch has issued numerous reports in the past few years about the organization's conversion to all digital formats.
The U.S. National Archives now makes almost no new microfilms. In fact, NARA is working with Footnote.com and other contractors to issue all new products in digital formats, not as microfilm. Current projects include both the conversion of existing microfilms to digital images as well as scanning paper documents that have never been available on microfilm.
Have you read any of the hundreds of announcements I have published in this newsletter in the past few years about new online databases of original images of interest to genealogists? Most of those new digital images were created by scanning microfilms, not the original paper. The microfilms then can be retired as the digital images are available to many more people, typically at a lower cost.
In short, the microfilms that have been of interest to genealogists for years are now being converted to digital images. The conversion will require quite a few years to complete, and microfilm will be around for some time yet. However, I have to wonder if it is wise to spend $3,500 for a microfilm reader and printer that can only be used for one task for a few more years. Might it be wiser to spend $500 to $1,000 for a PC and printer that is multipurpose?
If the organization is convinced that it needs to purchase a microfilm reader, I'd suggest obtaining a unit that can be attached to a computer. The user can then save the microfilm images, enhance them if necessary, and then copy them to a CD-ROM disk or a jump drive. The same unit will also allow users to print the original image or an enhanced image. The cost of such units is roughly the same as that of a standard microfilm reader or less.
Where is YOUR library or society spending its money?