Back to the Future – Digital Preservation

As a small organisation we use digital data day in, day out. Of course we do; everybody does. However, what do we do about those really important documents that we have to keep forever – lease documents, property title deeds, employee records, pension files, contracts and legal documents?

As a large multinational, meanwhile, what do you do with international contracts, engineering plans, compliance documents, medical testing records, international standards information, legal defence information, patent records, trademark applications, production route cards, delivery notes, purchase orders and expenses claims?

And finally, as a government, what do you do with health care records, national insurance information, nuclear power plant records, census information, voting cards, historical manuscripts, national identity documents, car registrations etc.?

What links all of these types of organisations is that they have encountered issues with losing digital data via software not being backwards compatible, media becoming obsolete, hard drive failures, cyber theft and employee negligence.

Surprisingly, perhaps, more and more organisations are doing a Marty and a Doc – and going ‘back to the future’ and using digital microfilm. It turns out that what many thought of as an obsolete medium is now being re-invented; no longer do you have to worry about chemicals and a manual photographic process. Now, digital files can be written directly to a microfilm drive for automatic conversion of digital files into an analogue version on machine readable microfilm. And microfilm has an official Life Expectancy rating of 500 years, using ISO 10602:19952 and ISO 18901:20103

It’s also human readable and can be scanned automatically back into a digital management system when needed.

So who is going ‘Back to the Future’?

UK engineering giant Springfield Fuels archives all its compliance and engineering documents to digital microfilm; we work with three others doing exactly the same. Meanwhile, in its November 2014 national elections, the Romanian government archived all of its’ voting eligibility records cards to digital microfilm. At the same time, a leading Irish newspaper we work with is archiving all of its born-digital newspapers to digital microfilm.

If you feel tempted, you have lots of choice. There are many digital to microfilm conversion bureaus out there who can offer this service – plus the equipment (often referred to as Archive Writers) is readily available to buy to allow very sensitive information to be converted to microfilm on site. There is even a company in Denmark called Piql that is offering a fresh new approach to creating digital microfilm.

Some of these companies have only entered the market in the last few years. What do they know about the next best-kept digital preservation secret? Amazingly enough, microfilm is a new and exciting trend in digital preservation. And luckily, it has been around for long enough – 100 years – to have a whole raft of international standards to support it, too.

So, Back to the Future it is then?

The author is Managing Director at Genus, UK based specialists in imaging, document, archive and print management offering services and hardware across the globe

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