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Preserving Church Records:
Comparison of Microfilm and Digitization Options

Taffey Hall

In todayís digital world, many may wonder why we continue to encourage microfilming over document scanning, or digitization, as the recommended form of church records preservation. Despite the availability of numerous materials on the world wide web, rapid changes in hardware and software programs make digitization an unreliable and expensive option for long-term preservation. Microfilm, by contrast, with a life expectancy of 500 years, provides a stable preservation option that is both durable and widely accessible. Microfilming technologies have evolved little over the past fifty-plus years and can be produced for only pennies per page.

Still, some churches may prefer to maintain at least a portion of their congregationís records in digital formats. In such cases a hybrid approach of both microfilm and scanning may be feasible. Scanned documents and born-digital materials are easily accessible via the Internet, documents are often keyword searchable, and the quality of digital documents is often higher than images on microfilm. In general, digitization works best for active records and microfilming is preferred for inactive, archival, and permanent materials. The comparison charts below may help determine which approach is best for your church

Microfilm

Advantages Disadvantages
Creates an unaltered, actual image of original that is both easy to view using light magnification and legally acceptable. Some images on film can range in quality.
Long lasting. 500 year life expectancy. Some projects may require microfilmer to retake images if original format of project is inconsistent.
Durable May require laborious searching.
Established standards from microfilm manufactures allows for convenient and continual access. Microfilm readers, reader-printers, and reader-scanners may be expensive.
Saves 95% of space necessary for storing paper documents. Master negative copies should be stored off-site in environmentally controlled facility.
Does not require expensive maintenance for preservation and accessibility.  
Can be converted to digital formats.  
Easier to salvage in water disaster than paper records or computer files.  

 

Digitization

Advantages Disadvantages
Easily accessible to wide variety of users through computers and the world wide web. Lack of standards make ensuring access over time difficult.
Software programs allow images to be manipulated for higher quality. Scanning can be laborious and slow. Editing and indexing of scanned items is also often necessary.
Often produces keyword searchable documents. Short life expectancy.
Durable. Expensive and costs may be unpredictable due to rapidly evolving technologies.
Easy to back up files and store copies of information in multiple locations. Requires continuous maintenance and data migration to latest technologies.
Saves 98% of space necessary for storing paper documents. Non-backwards compatibility means that manufacturers focus on new formats rather than those already in use.

 




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