We’re a company with two facilities in California. Why does this matter? Because we have clients from not only the state of California, but from across the entire country. With our scanning facilities solely on the west coast, one of the most common questions we get asked when discussing a digital preservation project is “how do I get my microfilm to you?” In this article we’ll give you the top three methods of getting microfilm to us, describe when a certain method makes the most sense, and provide some suggestions on how to pick what’s best for you.

Most importantly, the best transportation method is the one that you’re most comfortable with. This decision isn’t up to us, although we’ll try and help as best we can. But at the end of the day you’re the one that has to make the decision, so make sure you get a warm and fuzzy feeling before you send your microfilm out to be digitally scanned.

1. Shipping / Mailing Via Third Party

Nowadays we can order almost anything online and have it shipped to us, a lot of times within just a few days after ordering it. We’re not only talking about tchotchkes here; items that cost 100s or 1000s of dollars are constantly floating around the shipping world and we don’t think twice about it.

It should be no surprise that shipping / mailing is one of the most preferred methods of sending microfilm to a company for scanning into electronic records. We all know the names of the big agencies such as UPS, FedEx, and USPS, and it’s familiar, easy, and fast. Depending on where you’re sending from and the amount of material you’re sending, it’s also often the cheapest. What’s the bad part? Once you send it, it’s out of your hands and you aren’t 100% sure it’s safe until your materials arrive at our door.

If you’re looking for extra security for your microfilm, we offer you the option of using our lockable containers, if requested; Pelican Cases are part of our shipping / storage container suite. We don’t guarantee that the plane won’t go down, or the truck with your materials won’t get swiped by a gas tanker and explode, obliterating your documents and data, but if you’re looking for that bit of extra security and tamper-prevention, these containers could be for you. The general process goes like this: we send the cases to you with a key, you put your film in, lock it and keep the key, send it back, and we open it with our key. So on and so on until we’ve converted all of your film and fiche into scanned images.

When Does This Make The Most Sense?

When the amount of microfilm you’re planning to scan isn’t too large, and you’re not located within a couple hours (driving) of our facilities, shipping is a great choice. Having your scanning partner send their driver out to you is going to cost a decent amount of coin because you’re paying for the transportation itself, the driver’s time, gas, and the liability of the company driving your material, which they often don’t like. Shipping, instead, puts most of the burden on you, so the cost is often lower.

If you choose to work with us, you should know our scanning facilities are in California (the microfilm scanning is carried out at our Sunnyvale headquarters). If you’re in Oklahoma and have 150 rolls of film to scan, we’re probably not going to drive to you to pick them up. Sorry. With larger volumes of material (say 5,000+ rolls or so), it starts to make more sense to use ground transportation (see “Ground Transportation” section below).

When you need your project scanned and completed fast, you don’t want to wait for a day to open up for a driver pickup. This is where shipping is probably going to work best for you. Driving and pickups can depend on vehicle availability, other pickups already scheduled, driver vacations, and so on; if you’re dying to get your project started next week and aren’t within a couple of hours driving distance, shipping your microfilm is the fastest way to get it delivered and started.

If you have two copies of your microfilm or microfiche, shipping is great. Not that you’re hoping something happens to your material while in the mail, but you’re much more comfortable knowing that if it’s lost, destroyed, etc., you still have another copy and you didn’t lose the only record available.

2. Ground Transportation

Yes, ground transportation can technically be associated with third party shipping, but when we say ground transportation here we mean it in one of the following ways:

BMI picks it up

We work with you to set up a pickup or delivery and have our driver(s) go to your location in a BMI-owned van. This is mostly used for local/regional pickups and deliveries because once you get past a certain distance, it starts to not make sense for this mode of transportation.

Not to say we can’t drive longer distances if the project warrants it, but driving across multiple states is usually reserved for projects that have various reasons to do so, such as very large volumes, extremely sensitive or fragile material, or some contingent factor.

You drop it off

As easy as it sounds! If you’re able, you’re always welcome to drop off your microfilm at the beginning of your project, and then pick it up when the project’s complete and ready for you. Although it takes some time out of your day, we actually love having our customers do this because it gives them a chance to come to our facilities and take a tour. If you have the chance and are interested in seeing what goes on in a digital scanning and information management company’s workplace, we invite you to be our guest.

You send via courier

We have handfuls of customers who like to use trusted couriers, and it’s easy for everyone because neither party (our customers or us) has to do any of the driving. It might be a little more expensive for you if you go this direction, but it’s a balancing act of spending your time or your money to get your microfilm and microfiche to us.

When Does This Make The Most Sense?

Ground transportation, for the purposes of this article and according to us, makes the most sense when you’re in our local or regional area. It’s simple to get taken care of and, because of the geographic closeness to our office, is usually very flexible when coordinating. Sometimes we may be able to pick up the next day after getting a contract signed!

3. Air + Ground Transportation

Snapshot: BMI flies to your location, rents a freight truck, drives your material back.

This may not seem like a common method of getting your film to us, but in our world it kind of is. For many projects that are just a little past the point of it making sense to have one of our drivers wheel it on up the road to your location (multiple days of driving), or for a project with volumes of material that exceed the capacity of our company trucks, this is one of the best methods to collect your microfilm and get it back to our scanning facility.

It’s simple, really. A BMI employee (who has the proper license classifications for freight trucks) books a flight to the airport nearest to your location, or wherever your microfilm is stored. Then he’ll rent a truck suited to the transportation and will pick up the material and drive back to our facility for the scanning project. Done! If it’s a long enough drive, we’ll have two employees on the trip so that they can switch off driving while the other sleeps.

If there’s microfilm that’ll fit in one pickup, he’ll get a truck big enough for the one, but if there’s just way too much film then we’ll work with you to determine how many batches we’ll be doing and get the right truck for the batch sizes. Take a look at our article that covers reverse engineering your project to get an idea about batch sizes, timelines, and so on.

Wondering what we do when it’s nighttime? We keep driving. Your material doesn’t sit overnight in a truck in a random parking lot at the Bates Motel. We know your concern, and we’ve got you covered.

When Does This Make The Most Sense?

The flight/truck combo makes the most sense in situations where the project material isn’t easily shipped and it’s too far for a drive both ways. If you think about it from our perspective, it’s a lot less expensive to buy a $100 plane flight that takes a few hours, rent a truck and drive back with your material instead of spending all that time on the road with an empty vehicle. It’s also faster.

This method of transportation is usually for projects on the larger side, too, because if it’s a small or medium-sized project that can safely be mailed, we’ll usually recommend that. Once the costs start outweighing the benefits of mailing your material to us is when we get into discussions about the flight/truck combo method.

Final note on this method of transporation: most times that we’ve used this option for transporting a project, we were also involved in the pre-transportation organization and loading of our client’s material. When there’s a big project in the works that requires this mode of getting film from a client to us, it’s usually worth having one of our solid employees on site to assist our client. By doing this we can get a step ahead in the project and sort of guide the project down the best path right out the gate.

Are You Interested In Discussing The Best Way To Transport Your Microfilm?

There isn’t a “right” way to have your microfilm delivered to us. As we’ve illustrated here, you have a number of ways to peel the orange and what you feel most comfortable with is going to be the best way.

If you have a microfilm scanning project right around the corner, or maybe somewhere out there in the future, get in touch with us to discuss your scanning options as well as the logistics of having your project successfully completed.

Further Reading

If you’re reading about microfilm transportation, then we’re going to assume that a) you have microfilm and/or microfiche records, and b) you’re thinking about an electronic scanning project. That’s great! Here are three more articles that you may want to check out to further your microfilm knowledge:

“Traditional Microfilm Conversion vs Digital ReeL” is a comparison between what we call a “traditional conversion” and our product, “Digital ReeL.” If you’re not sure of the options you have available when it comes to microfilm scanning, this is a great place to start to get an idea of which one might be best suited for your project.

“How To Prepare Your Microfilm For Scanning is a pre-scanning project guide that’ll help you get your microfilm ready before you send it to a company for scanning. We use the acronym TIPs to remember the three parts: Triage and sort your microfilm and microfiche; Inventory your collection; and Pack it professionally.

“How Does A Microfilm Conversion Project Work” describes the general steps involved in a film scanning project, at least when we’re working together with you. Also included is a nice infographic that visually depicts the steps, in case you’re tired of all this microfilm reading!