The following is a Plus Edition article written by and copyright by Dick Eastman.
This week we read of the demise of still another company in the microfilm business: Kodak has filed for bankruptcy protection. As part of the plan to save the company, Kodak management has announced the company will no longer manufacture cameras. Actually, Kodak previously had stopped the manufacture of film and cameras that use film. In recent years, Kodak has only manufactured digital cameras, and those, too, are now being dropped. The company is dropping all film products, including microfilm. The changes will have a major impact on genealogists.
For years, genealogists, historians, and many others have relied on records recorded on microfilm. Some years ago, as the volume of paper created by government and industry became too great to store economically, government and industry welcomed microfilm, microfiche, and other micro-imaging techniques. Indeed, these tiny images have served us well. Millions of cubic feet of paper records have been compressed by microfilming and have been stored in much smaller filing cabinets.
If microfilm had never been invented, the Social Security Administration alone would have needed to build dozens of warehouses for records storage and also would have needed to hire an army of clerks to sort, file, and retrieve those pieces of paper. The cost of all that would have been in the hundreds of millions of dollars. The conversion to microfilm and microfiche literally made record storage possible.
Now we are seeing another conversion: from micro-imaging to even smaller digital imaging. Indeed, storing millions of documents on computer disks requires even less space than does microfilm. Fewer records storage warehouses need to be built and fewer clerks need to be hired. Digital records, even with multiple off-site backups, require significantly less space than do microfilmed records.
Of course, digital imaging has other benefits as well. If properly scanned and stored, high resolution digital images can be sharper and easier to read than those stored on microfilm. Digital images can have less "fuzziness." In addition, distribution and display is much easier with digital images than images on microfilm. Microfilm readers are rare in homes and in many offices while low-cost computers are available most everywhere, even in a purse or briefcase. When was the last time you carried a microfilm reader in your purse or briefcase?
For years, one of the big arguments against digital imaging was that of the storage media. The argument has been phrased, "Who will be able to read floppies in 8-inch, 5 1/4-inch or 3 1/2-inch formats twenty or fifty years from now?"
Now we are seeing the same argument being used against the use of microfilm: who is going to be able to read microfilm or microfiche twenty or fifty years from now? That will be long after the last microfilm viewer has been relegated to a museum.
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