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Film or Scan?
Nearly all newspapers preserve past issues on 35mm microfilm. Today more newspapers are wondering if they should continue to invest in the creation of microfilm when the images could be put on CD, DVD, or hard disk. The answer to that question lies in the details associated with these issues: capture cost, media life, technological obsolescence, viewer costs, accessibility, searchability, and image quality. Other issues that may be a factor are space considerations, available staff time, corporate information technology directives, and more.
Capture Cost:
The cost of capturing the text files used to create a newspaper may seem to be zero, since many already exist in a digital format. The cost of an archiving and retrieval system is an additional cost that is substantial. The cost of this software, maintenance, hardware and support is substantially more than creating microfilm. The cost to make the text archive available to the public is an additional cost. However, if the software and hardware and website are already in place the capture cost is essentially zero.

The cost of capturing newspaper images on microfilm is generally 5.25 cents per page. There is an additional cost to newspapers of 2 cents per page for a service copy of the microfilm so the original master may be stored for long-term preservation. Microfilm scanners can do an excellent job scanning newspaper microfilm at high speeds. These scanners take about 3 seconds per page. Newspaper digital images can be captured for prices of 5 to 10 cents per page. Therefore, it is less expensive overall to create microfilm and scan the microfilm to create a digital image than to scan the paper directly. A very important by-product of this technique is the master microfilm that is created because of its long life expectancy. ADVANTAGE: Microfilm.
Media Life:
The life of digital images stored on magnetic media (hard disks or tapes) is about three to five years. After that the files begin to deteriorate. Systems that rely on tapes for long-term storage require a "e;refresh"e; by copying the data onto new tapes every 3 to 5 years. Most CD's have a media life of 5 to 10 years. Most CDs contain a layer of light reflective/reactive material that decays over time. These same LE's apply to DVD's. Microfilm, as created by Heritage Microfilm, has an LE of 500. (Film created prior to about 1980 was on a type of plastic [acetate] that gave the film an LE of 100 years.) Poor processing, poor handling, environmental contaminants, and especially humidity and heat will substantially shorten the LE of microfilm. Overall, microfilm has an LE of at least 25 times that of any other available media. ADVANTAGE: Microfilm.
Technological Obsolescence:
Most of us remember 8 track tapes. How many of you have used a 5¼-inch floppy this year or have a drive that would read one? CD's will be the next obsolete media. DVD is here. Who wants less? My first PC had a 10Mg hard drive and cost $8,000. The Smithsonian now has this PC on display (IBM PC XT). It's already history. The only sure thing about digital technology is that it will be faster, cheaper, and more useful next year. Microfilm technology is mature. It has been with us for over 100 years and it's stood the test of time. ADVANTAGE: Microfilm.
Viewer Costs:
Microfilm reader/printers are $5-$12,000. They can't be used for anything else. A new PC with a printer can be had for under $2,000 and it has untold other uses. Also, there are a thousand times more PC's in the world than microfilm reader/printers. Microfilm reader/printers are mechanical devices and require expensive maintenance costs, too. No doubt about it, digital images and text files are less expensive to view and print. ADVANTAGE: Digital Images/Files.
How many people in your organization are close to the microfilm archive? How many are on your network? Digital images and text files are generally widely available within an enterprise. Many newspapers are now members of larger organizations with Intranets. Files can be located on network attached storage so that everyone can access them. Or, if they aren't directly accessible they can be accessed by someone else and emailed. More than 3,000 newspapers have websites. About 10% of these offer public access to their electronic archive of text files for at least some period of time. Public access to a newspaper's microfilm is generally limited to the local public library or state library. Searching on the web from home is easier than a trip to the library. Plus, researching articles out of town requires a drive or a wait for an interlibrary loan if the owning institution will loan it at all. ADVANTAGE: Digital Images/Files.
Text files of articles are completely searchable. The technology is 100% accurate. Searching microfilm is about the opposite. You have to know what you're looking for and then it still takes time. Once microfilm has been scanned it's important to remember that you now have digitized images. They are no more searchable than the original film. What's more, they no longer have a perceptible order. Scanned newspapers or newspaper microfilm must be indexed. Indexing is done by a person looking at an image and typing in date, page, etc. It all takes time and time is money. This is in addition to the cost of scanning. Digital images can be OCR'd (Optical Character Recognition). Software looks at an image and creates a text file. The text file can vary greatly in its accuracy. This text file can be searched easily and the image then presented to the searcher. Some software, such as that used, will even highlight the search phrase on the image for easy location by the searcher. The searcher can then read the article, with graphics, from a direct image of the original publication. Plus, this can all happen over the Internet with a standard browser. ADVANTAGE: Digital Images/Files.
Image Quality:
Native text files have perfect quality. However, they do not have the formatting that appeared in the paper originally. Scanned photos will have variable image quality. Microfilm has image quality of approximately 2,000 dpi. This is true for film created today according to American National Standards Institute (ANSI) specifications. Older microfilm or non-archival film may not be of this quality. Scanned microfilm images are generally 200, 300, or 400 dpi. For a frame of reference, most web browsers will only display 72 dpi and most laser printers operate at 600 dpi. ADVANTAGE: Microfilm.
For long-term preservation, microfilm is the standard and is likely to remain so for many decades. It is very well accepted, relatively inexpensive, compact, durable, and a true facsimile of the document. For searchability text files are unbeatable. However, they lack the formatting and completeness of the original document. We believe the ideal solution combines these two technologies. Create and store archival microfilm, scan that film, OCR the digital image and search the resulting text file. The resulting digital images and text files may be stored on CD, DVD, or magnetic disks or whatever comes next. They can be viewed over your local area network, Intranet, or the Internet with the security of having the original microfilm stored for 500 years. The total cost for this solution is 12 to 15 cents per page.
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