Now a few words about Microform Scanning

By Lawrence Wischerth posted 11-11-2010 12:18


With all the emphasis on the paperless office and paper reduction, you rarely hear any mention of our old reliable friend the Microform.  For those of you who may not be familiar with this tried and true media format, microforms include microfiche, microfilm, microjackets and aperture cards.  Oh yeah, now you remember!! Your film, fiche and other microform records and documents are probably relegated to the sub-sub-basement; lonely, neglected and forgotten…… (sniff sniff). 

But have you ever considered that there may be business value in the information stored on you old microforms. After all, the documents were stored on a microform for a reason. This is especially true for companies that have requirements to maintain information for very long periods of time. Some examples are pension plans, mortgage products, medical practices/hospitals and companies that produce durable or heavy industry products with long lifespans.  If you accept the idea that your microforms may have business value, the next logical question is how and when to I convert these images to electronic format so that they can be stored and accessed  electronically from an ECM system, SharePoint or some other electronic source.

From a technical prospective, there are scanners and software available from several vendors. The scanners can operate in an automated way and perform scanning at relatively high speeds. The scanning software does a good job of image enhancement, edge detection, cropping, de-skewing and image rotation. Images converted from microforms are generally high quality and are easily read and printed. The scanning process is a bit slower than paper scanning, with the slower throughput mostly caused by the variability in microform image size, filming methods, reduction ratios or the original document quality. So the technology issue has been addressed, now what?

The business side of the question is not as straight forward.  Scanning very old records and documents from microform just to get rid of the them can be expensive, time consuming and may provide little business value. But, if you have microform documents and you know they contain valuable business information that you still need today, here are a few suggestions about how to approach converting those microform images to electronic format:

  • Determine if the documents on the microform are the sole source of the information. If the information exists on other systems and can be retrieved or produced faster from those systems, you may not want to convert the information from the microform source. This may be the case with information that is stored on microfiche and comfiche.  
  • Look to convert documents when they are needed to complete a business process or workflow. Try to have your workflow or work processing system trigger a request to have the microform converted when those work requests come into the company.
  • Convert the entire microform record when a business transaction requires a review of the documents. Don’t try to locate and convert a specific document or documents. Convert all that you can while you have the opportunity.
  • Did I mention business value?  Remember, the microform scanning process is more complex than paper scanning and requires more time and planning.  Make sure you are going to derive some business benefit, process improvement or cost savings from your efforts.

So pick up your flashlight and head to your sub-sub-basement to look in on your old forgotten friend.  You may be surprised to find that your old microforms might still fit your business plans like an old comfortable pair of sneakers.


Note:  Healthfirst employment is listed for identification purposes only.  Opinions expressed are personal opinions and not those of my employer  

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