You can have your microfilm archive in front of you and know that you want to scan it to digital, but what else should you be thinking about? In this article, we’ll give you some ideas that we believe will make your project successful. You can ask ten companies the same question and get ten different answers, and that’s fine. But here are five ideas we want you to know about that’ll guide your decision-making process and enable you to execute a successful microfilm scanning project. Onward!
1) Phases Are a Good Thing
Why phases? Because if you try to do too much at once, you can get lost in the sauce and not know how to get out. By using a phased approach, you can complete the most important task first, then move on to other items as needed. Here’s an example for microfilm scanning:
Phase 1: Replicate Your Current Methods
What this means – Do what you’re doing now, but in digital!
Why this works – You know how and where to find your records, so starting with an existing (working) method is a great place to begin. Not only will your people know how to find their data, but it will be even faster to find in once it’s in a digital format.
Phase 2: Get Granular With Indexing
What this means – Microfilm is normally organized simply because it contains many records on a single unit. There’s not really much you can do other than find the roll to find the record. Once your microfilm is digital, though, you can get fancy and index (name/organize) your records at the individual level.
Why this works – Once you’ve scanned your microfilm into a digital format, you can decide if you need to get even more detailed. If the answer is yes, you can identify which records need to be segmented into distinct files, and how they will be named during the indexing process. The nice thing here is that the records are already in a digital format (good work starting with Phase 1!) so it’s a simple process to look at various images and get a sense for the scope of the indexing.
(more on this in “2. Indexing” below)
Phase 3: Data Transfer
What this means – Once you have your digital images, you’re ready to import these to electronic databases for total document management.
Why this works – You may already have a database for your current and go-forward images and data, and you want to get your archive microfilm records into that database. By using the phased approach, you now have a complete set of digital images (Phase 1) indexed to your specifications (Phase 2) and ready to import into your system. Instead of trying to get the perfect solution up front, which can drag out projects for what seems like forever, you decided to go step by step and make the process smooth as butter.
Indexing (identifying, naming, and organizing your records) can make or break a project: it can be simple and cost-effective, or extremely complex and pricey; it can help you find your records quickly, or it can cause confusion and consternation. Getting this part right is critical!
How do you access your records now? Using this as a starting point, you can make your life easier. If you find microfilm by opening cabinet drawers and then locating a box of film that’s organized alphabetically, it could make sense to replicate this structure digitally. Once the records are scanned and digitally accessible, you can then see what may make more sense and do a reorganization of the files based on different criteria.
Maybe you want the full monty solution with image-level indexing up front. Aggressive, but doable. Identify the way files will be separated and named, and make sure that you have examples of each type of document that exists in your archive. This is a potential rabbit hole, so be ready for a flurry of questions from the company you’re working with, all with the intent of making the project successful.
3) Identify the Primary Points of Contact
A very important step, but one that’s often overlooked. Because scanning projects are dynamic and involve unique material like microfilm, surprises are a guarantee. By having a primary point of contact at your organization and your scanning partner’s organization, questions and answers will flow more smoothly and ensure an efficient and effective project.
Without clearly identified points of contact, you will run into delays, confusion, frustration, and finally resignation. That’s probably a bit more dark than reality, but you get the point. Have a point of contact identified and accountable!
4) Understand What You’re Willing to Pay For … and What You’ll Get For It
If you want the lowest price, don’t expect rainbows and sunshine at the end of the project. If you want best total value, consider your project an investment: it doesn’t feel good putting money in now (short-term pain), but when you finish the project and see a result that makes your and your staff’s life easier, you’ll be glad you did (long-term payoff).
We see many companies that opt to pay the “low” price up front, only to realize that scope changes, mistakes, and errors ensure much more total spend down the road. You can never be certain what will happen during a project, or what surprises will pop up and derail your plans, but having a solid understanding of the capabilities of your scanning partner and their willingness to work with you will go a long way. Beware the charlatan that promises perfection and asks for little in return!
Caveat – high price doesn’t guarantee high quality. Make sure your partner understands you and your objectives, not just what they want to sell.
5) Understand the Material
As a colleague of mine used to say, “ask for the world, but expect New Jersey” (sorry, he was from Boston).
What does this mean? Ask for what you want, but temper your expectations. With scanning projects, we see plenty of new customers with grand visions of perfection: that just because the images are now digital, the entire organizational structure of the files will be perfect, down to the image; errors will be non-existent; all documents will be optimum legibility; coffee will brew itself!! A pleasant dream. And this even though they may have only asked for roll-level indexing. Be aware that with digital content, there are many ways to peel the onion and organize your records, but you need to be specific at the beginning of the project so that your scanning partner can create an optimized process flow.
A way to think about this is “scanning” vs. “cataloging.” Scanning is the up front part, getting the images into a digital format. Cataloging is the back end indexing/organizing part, normally a bit more difficult depending on your requirements. If you decide on a simple roll-level indexing scheme, and have 500 rolls of film, you can expect 500 files named by roll container. You should not expect multiple document types to separate the varying kinds of content on the rolls, and then formatted into 10-page segments named by the employee ID#. That, my friends, is cataloging.
Now, if employee-level indexing is stated as a requirement up front, absolutely expect it to happen! But just be sure you’re clear on what you’re asking for, and what you receive.
There you have it, five ways to make your microfilm scanning project successful.
In a previous article we gave you some important first steps to prepare for and start a scanning project. If you haven’t read it yet, we encourage you to take a look by clicking this link: “How Do I Start A Microfilm Scanning Project?”