Digital Microfilm

The Otago Daily Times (ODT) is New Zealand’s oldest surviving daily newspaper.  It was first published in 1861 and NZMS has microfilmed the vast majority of these historical issues as part of the National Library’s newspaper preservation programme  and a private filming contract we undertook in the early 1990’s – as for many New Zealander’s for it is a publication dear to our heart.
These days, like most modern newspapers, the ODT is compiled and published digitally.  This begs the question – why microfilm the printed paper when we can create “digital” microfilm from the electronic source files (arguably the ultimate “original” for provenance!)?   Computer Output Microform (COM) technology has actually been around since the 1960’s but until the late 1990’s it was the prevail of microfiche.  It wasn’t until recently that 35mm COM devices became available – most likely in response to the horrendous stories of loss of significant large collections of electronic files through inadequate backup/migration/management issues that surface occasionally.
We had experienced and researched COM for more than a decade.  In 2011/12 we got the chance to formally trial this technology, specific to newspapers, with the National Library of New Zealand and Allied Press in Dunedin – the publishers of the ODT.
Allied Press supplied us daily via FTP with their pre-press PDF files.  Just as we check the printed newspapers for completeness and legibility, the PDF files were inspected by our staff and replacement files requested if any content was missing or incomplete.   It’s not as easy as you might think – we discovered that the many components of a PDF file form (or don’t form) in different ways!  A good knowledge of the paper and its layout is also critical for this task.
The approved files were then captured direct onto microfilm and NZMS evaluated a number of the devices or “Archive Writers” that do this in a variety of scientific ways.  NZMS follows tried and true ISO standards for preservation microfilming and a key concern for us was to translate the existing standards as far as possible into the digital microfilm.  From then on our processing of the film, permanence testing to ISO standards, and production of duplicate negatives and positive copies was exactly the same as our standards-based microfilming practices.
As an aside the ST ViewScan microfilm scanner we distribute throughout New Zealand can reverse the process.  It can take a reel of microfilm and step and repeat through to generate a scan of every image (manually or automatically).  And of course from there you can instantly OCR or create editable/searchable text of the files.  We were keen to ensure quality microfilm scanners could create usable images with our digital microfilm product (the ST ViewScan performed with distinction!).
We have to be supremely aware of “rights” issues here, even moreso than we do with the “analogue” microfilm copies; and we greatly respect the trust bestowed upon us by the publisher.  Once we have quality-assured the pertinent microfilm the digital files are deleted from our electronic systems.  We maintain an audit trail of this activity.
The microfilm experts at NZMS are delighted with the results, and you can read more about our Digital Microfilm service here.  The Life expectancy of the master microfilm if stored correctly is 500+ years and unlike the digital source files, migration is not required!