Microfilm scanning isn’t perfect. 

Yes, we said it. But, compared to the other options you have available with your microfilm records, scanning is pretty darn great. 

We’re going to describe 7 different problems with microfilm scanning and give you a solution to each. By the end of this article you should have a warm and fuzzy feeling that, if you’ve been researching it and are just not sure yet, microfilm scanning is a good decision and you’ll be happy you did it.

What Is Microfilm?

Microfilm is a physical record-keeping material that stores “shrunken” photographs and images so that you can fit a lot of data in a small space. It’s organized as a long strip of images that comes in a roll (or “reel”) format, kind of like a fishing reel. 

Decades ago microfilm was a major way to store images and data, and a lot of it was created. Even to this day, some organizations have microfilm created so that they can have an eye-readable hard copy of their records in case their digital copies are compromised or lost. 

Why You Should Scan Your Microfilm

The physical version of microfilm is a great archival way to store your records, and can last for up to 500 years if stored properly. Microfilm allows you to have an eye-readable version of your documents so that it’s not necessary to use a computer or reader-printer to view the records. If the apocalypse happens and all of your electronic devices are broken, your microfilm can still be viewed!

On the other hand, physical microfilm can be cumbersome to use if you’re into it a lot and constantly accessing it. When you scan and digitize your microfilm, you create an electronic copy of your files that opens up a world of increased speed of access and usability. Digital files can now be searched almost instantaneously by using text search; a digital image can be sent with the click of a button; and access to your electronic documents can be shared by your teammates from virtually anywhere in the world.

7 Problems With Microfilm Scanning, And Solutions

1) It’s too expensive.

Problem: Spending money to digitize your microfilm has always been hard to contemplate because you don’t know if it’s going to be worth it, and you’re concerned it’s going to break the bank. 

Solution: Microfilm conversion can be expensive, though this is a relative term and will be based on what you ask for in your project. If cost is a major issue, think about the costs of not scanning: hardware upkeep, employee time spent finding and scanning individual records, potential loss of data if microfilm is destroyed or lost, etc. 

Price can vary wildly based on your particular situation, such as the number of microfilm reels you need scanned, how you want to index your files, and the speed at which you need your project completed. Details about scanning costs can be found in our article “How Much Does Microfilm Scanning Cost?”

2) I don’t want my microfilm to leave my control.

Problem: Handing over your microfilm to a scanning company can be tough, especially if you only have one copy of the records.  

Solution: Trust isn’t something you can just throw around, or take someone’s word for it when they’re selling you a service. When you’re researching microfilm scanning companies, ask them how they handle their transportation, how your microfilm will be tracked, and basically what happens when you give them your film.

Don’t be shy about this, since it’s your microfilm that’s at stake. For information about transporting your microfilm, you can read our “Microfilm Transportation” article. Details about microfilm scanning processes can be found in our “10-Step Microfilm Scanning Process” article.

3) I don’t know how much microfilm I have.

Problem: You don’t know the exact size of your project, so you’re concerned that if you go forward with a scanning project you may have more than you planned for and the total project cost will get out of control. 

Solution: Estimating the number of rolls you have for scanning is luckily not too complex, especially compared to estimating microfiche! For some microfilm estimation tips and hints, read the “Microfilm” section of our “How Much Microfilm & Microfiche Do I Have?” article. You should be able to get a ballpark number using the methods described.

As for the concern about your project turning into a money pit because you may have more rolls than you originally thought, there are a few things you can do to avoid this. 

  1. Figure out which rolls in your film library are most important, and start with those. For example, if certain record years are accessed most frequently, focus on those to get your quote.
  2. Ask your scanning rep to quote you a project price up to a certain amount of rolls, such as “$15,000 for up to and including 600 rolls” so that you know you have a cap at a certain point in the project. If you have more rolls after this, you can decide if you want to get those scanned. 
  3. Ask your scanning rep to help determine the number of rolls you have. They’ll have more expertise in this area and can hone in on a solid estimate. 

4) I’m not sure which type of microfilm I have.

Problem: Microfilm comes in different layouts, and these can change the price of your scanning project. If you’re talking to a rep and trying to get a quote, but you don’t know which type of microfilm you have, you could be providing incorrect information which comes back to bite you later on. 

Solution: “Standard” roll film types include 16mm 100’ simplex film and 35mm 100’ film, but this is just the starting point. With other types that include duplex, blipped, and duo film, it can be hard to nail down which one you have. Our “What Kind Of Microfilm Do I Have?” page lays out various types of film and its nuances, and should help you figure out what you have in your collection.

Frustrated worker at computer

5) I don’t know how to organize the digital files.

Problem: Transforming microfilm into digital files sounds great, but organizing the electronic files properly can be daunting. 

Solution: The simplest method to a successful microfilm scanning project is to use the building block approach: create a foundation based on what you know and build from there. For microfilm conversion, this means replicating what you do now but turning it into a digital format. 

A common problem we see is when clients jump right in and create an overly complex organization method, even if it’s completely different from how they use their roll microfilm in physical form. This can cause issues with the end-users, so we like to recommend duplicating their current retrieval process, seeing how it works, then improving as time goes on and needs change.

Work with your scanning partner to understand the indexing and current retrieval methodology, see how that can be turned into a digital retrieval system, and then improve along the way. When working with us, we’ll use our project review process to help you craft a workflow that gets you what you want in the most productive way.

6) The data on the microfilm is confidential.

Problem: Your microfilm contains sensitive information and you’re concerned about a) who’s seeing it and handling it, and b) how it’s being protected. These are valid concerns and are critical to how you’ll choose to move forward. 

Solution: There are two parts to this problem: the physical security of your microfilm and the digital/network security (both how your roll film is processed and how the scanned files are protected). Ask questions when you interview scanning companies about how they keep your film physically secure (facilities, personnel handling, etc.) and also how they keep it electronically secure once the records are digitized. How are the images stored? How are they transmitted? Who has access? Are subcontractors involved?

Our “Choosing A Partner For Your Secure Scanning Project” article explores this topic in detail and can guide you on which questions to ask and what to look for.

7) I use my microfilm constantly and I can’t be away from it.

Problem: You’re using your microfilm regularly, maybe even daily, and you’re not sure how you’d be able to part with it for long enough to get it scanned. If you don’t have your microfilm readily available, what will you do if you need to access information from the records?

Solution: When working with your scanning partner, make sure to tell them that you access your roll film on a regular basis. This should trigger a more detailed conversation about how often you access your microfilm, which record types (if there are multiple) are most heavily used, your process to locate the data, how quickly the records need to be located, and so on. 

If you’re accessing your microfilm consistently enough, and the project is large enough that it couldn’t be completed in a few days or weeks, it’ll likely make sense to set up a “records request” process to run in parallel with the general scanning project. This way, you’ll get your microfilm scanned and digitized while at the same time have the comfort of knowing that if you need to access particular microfilm reels, there’s a process in place to locate, scan, and send you the information you need. 

For more information about this topic, read our blog post that details accessing your records during a digital conversion project.

Next Steps

Now that you have the solutions to the 7 problems with film scanning, are you ready to get your film scanning project started? Call us at 800.359.3456 or send an email to info@bmiimaging.com to get connected with us – we’ll pair you with one of our reps to discuss scanning services and walk you through our microfilm conversion project process.

Further Reading

There’s a lot to know about microfilm scanning! Take a look at a few of our other articles to get more information and be prepared for your project:

“How Much Does Microfilm Scanning Cost?” describes the 9 factors that can affect the price you pay to digitize your film. 

“How To Choose The Right Microfilm Scanning Partner” provides you with our insights into how to select the right scanning partner for you. And yes, we might not be the right fit.

“The BMI Microfilm Scanning Process” is our 10-step process to scan your microfilm. If you’re getting your film scanned, don’t you want to know how it’s done?