Wait a Minute, You Still Use Microfilm?

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Good question, Keli. According to the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), a roll of microfilm has an expected lifespan of around 500 years. 


500 years is the lifespan for preservation grade microfilm (silver-gelatin or silver-halide.) The microfilm in our public access cabinets (mostly diazo copies?) is reproduced from the preservation grade masters. Microfilm copies are not quite as stable (they degrade with UV exposure over time.) Perhaps a 50-100 year shelf life for the copies.

I like what Northeast Document Conservation Center says on its website about microfilm as a stable medium:

The enduring popularity of preservation microfilm is because of its practicality. Unlike its digital counterpart, microfilm is the product of a nearly static, tested technology that is governed by carefully crafted national standards.


Like "carefully crafted national standards" because it sounds just like a beer!


I've heard that one advantage to film versus digital is that you have that hard copy record that isn't as easily damaged, whereas with digital, if the data is corrupted, it is a mess. You can also easily splice together film and tape. I think it's a lot more fun to use one of the microfilm machines too. Wrrrrrrrrrrr slap slap slap slap.

Hi Keegan - You are correct about microfilm's legendary durability. We regularly re-splice leaders on films that have been loved a little too much. Also, the copies we have are just that, copies. The master reels are usually stored away someplace safe where they can be quickly called up when duplicates are needed. Thanks for a great question!


In the 60's I worked for a brand new company called Information Handling Services. It was located in a warehouse in what is now known as the Denver Tech Center area. The company I'm sure was bought out at some point, but at the time, they had several contracts with the Government, including the Military and all of the paperwork was being put on microfilm. We filmed thousands and thousands of paper, all different sizes and types. Microfilm or Microfiche was very new at that time and it was considered a state of the art process. I really enjoyed working with the filming and afterwards the proofreading.on the machines. It felt good to be a part of something that was so important and would be used for many years to come!


I purchased a house that was built in 1916 and would really like to get information on all the history of owners and/or pictures of the house back in 1916. Is that something that might be in the records here?

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