You may have questions regarding the digitization of

your microfilm collection... Let us give you some answers!

Why Should We Digitize Our Microfilm Collection?

At Advantage, we understand that preservation is only 1/2 of the equation. Once your materials are safely archived on microfilm, you need to consider accessibility to the valuable content those reels contain. What good does it do to keep all of that history in a drawer? Historical newspapers and documents provide the first draft of our communities history and they not only need to be preserved, but made easily accessible. You might be evaluating the advantages of digitizing this historic content once it is preserved on microfilm. We have received this question asked by library directors many times, and we have the answers:

A Digital Archive Will Save Time

Keyword searching allows library staff and patrons to find information within seconds of typing in a name or search term. Less time spent researching by thumbing through pages of newspapers or microfilm is more time spent assisting patrons & working on other projects or programs for the library. 

For example: Patron A calls the library looking for “John Smith’s” obituary believing “John Smith” passed away between 1910 – 1920. Reference staff spends two weeks flipping through one page at a time finding every John Smith that passed between 1910 – 1920. Patron A calls back and says I’m sorry it was between 1900 -1907. Three weeks have been lost to researching an obituary. Keyword searching allows phrase searching for every newspaper page containing the phrase “John Smith”. Once that term has been searched, reference staff just has to click through each indexed year in their database from 1910 – 1920. Those years will be filtered by the search term “John Smith” (only the articles containing the term “John Smith” will appear for that year once searched). Three weeks of research via microfilm is now an hour of research on a computer.

Sidney Public Library Director Andrew Sherman sums up the problem:

“We get a lot of requests from people to find information in the old local newspapers we have on microfilm,” said Mr. Sherman, “and the issue we have is, if the person doesn’t have a good idea of the date or a fairly limited date range for us to search, with our staff, it’s just not practical for us.”

Library Director Debbie Saunders, providing a demonstration of the Library’s Digital Archives to the members of the Gallia County District Library Board of Trustees.

Like many of our partners, Bossard Memorial Library director Debbie Saunders also knows the limitations of the microfilm at her library in terms of accessibility.

“While it was great that patrons could come in and search the microfilm in house, it wasn’t searchable in a real efficient way,” said Saunders. “We now have an online searchable index of every paper since 1895…We just believed in the value of it and what it will do for people in terms of their research capability, even if you’re not doing real in-depth research you can learn a lot about local history or family members.”

Melinda Krick, editor of The Paulding Progress agrees:

“So many times we’ve tried to research something, and it’s like trying to find a needle in a haystack unless you had a date to go by. This makes research so much easier and productive.” BUT…you might WANT to spend a bit more time on your research. “It is easy to get lost browsing through the archives,” 

It Will Improve The Accuracy Of Research

Director Susan Pieper reads an article about Andrew Carnegie’s $40,000 gift to open a library, published in the Paulding Democrat, Thursday, July 3, 1913.

Keyword searching & indexing of archives assures staff of a higher percentage rate return on finding information their patrons need. Computer searches can find people, phrases, places and events people can overlook after hours of researching a newspaper page by page. Once your newspaper is digitized, each newspaper page will be keyword searchable. It is much more efficient than the “old way”.

Without a searchable archive, to locate a name, an event, or anything else of significance, you first need to know a date, or at least a fairly narrow date range. Once you find the right cabinet, drawer, and finally the reel, containing that date range of the newspaper you were looking for…then the work begins. Thread the microfilm reader…now rethread it correctly, change the lens…then realize the one you had initially was the correct one…then start scrolling. Then scroll some more. Keep scrolling. Scroll a bit longer… until you find the single page you want out of the 900 or more on the reel. Now locate the article. Now find the name, place, or event that started you on this journey in the first place. Then rewind the reel, and put it back, so you can repeat the process for the next item on your list.

Is there any question that things will be overlooked, or instances missed? How complete can one’s research be utilizing this method? Wouldn’t it be a lot more convenient to just search for “John Kennedy’s” name and have every instance of it presented to you to begin with. Then (equally efficient), have it highlighted on the image if “John Kennedy” appears in that newspaper page? Searching within newspaper pages also allows for researchers to uncover information they would otherwise have overlooked.

Toby Schwartzman, public service director for the James V. Brown Library knows that for the individuals using the library’s resource of film, looking for one particular article or obituary without the exact date it was published is nearly impossible.

You are reading the newspaper very arduously. You have to already know what you are looking for.”

A digital archive allows you to give your historical documents a new life, and give your community an easy-to-use  resource,  by  converting  your  local newspaper microfilm, and other historical documents, to a fully-searchable digital archive. The Community History Archives serve as a practical means to explore and discover content that was not easily accessible before. Preserving the historic content on microfilm ensures that the “first rough draft of history” is available for future generations. Using digitization as a supplement (not a replacement) to your long term archival strategy, it opens up a very real way for the members of your community to connect with their history.

It Will Help Preserve The Physical Microfilm

A comprehensive community archive strategy should include both film for preservation, and digitization for ease of access.

We stand by our convections: Microfilm is for preservation, digitization is for access. Hard copy newspaper, microfilm, & microfilm readers wear down with every year and every use. Researching digitally is not only a more efficient way of searching, it also helps further preserve the preservation copy from deteriorating over time with use.

Caribou Public Library Director Anastasia Weigle, sums it up well, when she says:

“Archivists know it’s not the newspaper that’s valuable, but the content in that paper. We have a number of publications we can’t even bring out of the box because they’re just falling apart.”

Oils from the skin is acidic can damage film, and compromise newspaper and other original documents. Oil from fingerprints also collect dust, which is abrasive and can cause scratches on your film. If your microfilm readers are not properly cleaned and maintained, or covered when not in use, it too can be a source of damage. Dust, oils, and particulates settle on the glass, and becomes abrasive.  Paper is even more fragile, and less stable. Humidity, temperature variations, and other environmental factors compound the risk.

Your microfilm or original paper materials will deteriorate from the normal wear of use.  Digitization allows for the reels and documents be handled only by your staff.

It Can Protect Your Previous Investment In Microfilm

Robbee Tonubbee, Director of the Donald W. Reynolds Library looks through archived microfilm boxes as she prepares a batch of film to be sent off to Advantage for digitization.

Have we mentioned that we think the microfilm reels are a preservation medium? Due to the wear and tear on your microfilm service copies, you will find yourself periodically replacing damaged reels, or losing the content because the replacement costs become too high.

We believe the microfilm should be purchased once, and handled as little as possible. The more it is used the higher the chance of scratches, tears, and other forms of deterioration caused by oily fingerprints, contact with the hard (and often unclean) reader surfaces, improper storage, and careless handling. Another thing to consider is how long will you be able to source parts for, or find someone to service, the microfilm readers in your institution.

As long as your microfilm remains in the condition in which you purchased it, you will always be able to re-scan, or reformat your digital images from the best available source materials. If your film is unable to provide the image quality you find acceptable. At that point you must purchase a duplicate, borrow for an institution that may have a better quality copy, or in extreme cases, pay to re-film from bound volumes or other paper documents if you can locate it.

Nevada Library Director Shanna Speer was fortunate to find better quality film from the State Historical Society of Iowa, stored in the Advantage Archives microfilm storage facility:

 “The digitization of the paper for the library will actually be done through the newspaper microfilm negatives that are owned by the State Historical Society, rather than those owned by the library. That’s because the film owned by the State Historical Society has never been used except to make a positive copy of the film. Therefore, there are no scratches or blemishes on the film, so it will allow for the best digital copy.”

However, we work with many libraries across the country that have experienced “expensive creep” when it comes to their digitization efforts, due to the costs associated with time spent locating and evaluating copies of microfilm in better shape than theirs, or purchasing copies from a vendor. Purchasing replacement duplications of the microfilm is a viable option, however, our position remains…you should only have to replace at risk film suffering from vinegar syndrome or redox. All other factors can and should be mitigated by limited handling and proper storage.

It Provides Valuable Patron & Community Service

A digital archive of historical newspapers and other documents of significance, will connect a community to their past in a very meaningful way.

The most important reason as to why your institution should consider a digital Community History Archive created from your existing microfilm collection, may be the most obvious: To provide a valuable service that meets or exceeds its patrons & community members needs. The faster you can find the information they need, the more you and your staff can be devoted to other projects, allowing for those resources to be directed towards other meaningful projects.

Libraries are at the very heart of your community and serve as an essential component of  collecting, preserving, and providing access to information and engaging the community. There is not better way to accomplishing that, than offering innovative services and creating tangible ways to learn, connect, and facilitate a culture of  discovery.  The Community History Archives help facilitate these objectives, and likely aligns with your institution’s guiding principals and mission statement.

Ryan Gjerde, Luther College Preus Library director, recognizes the vehicle that their new Community History Archive can serve in the library’s outreach efforts.

“We are excited that this project will unlock a significant source of local history for casual and serious researchers and genealogists, and perhaps even students in local schools.

Once the process is completed, Ryan Gjerde, Luther College Preus Library director, will create documentation and training materials for local users. Throughout the two-year grant period, Gjerde will lead training and outreach efforts.

“We are excited that this project will unlock a significant source of local history for casual and serious researchers and genealogists, and perhaps even students in local schools…we look forward to reaching out to local groups who might be interested in training on how to use the collection.”

The Markets We Serve

We truly value our long standing partnerships with libraries and publishers, in communities across the United States. We have been privileged to help them preserve, and online access  to their community’s history, and are pleased that they have joined in the cause to ensure that documents from the past are accessible in the present, and available in the future. In addition to our existing relationships with community newspapers and public libraries, we continue to enter into new partnerships with museums, historical societies, genealogical societies, colleges, universities, and more, to provide Document Imaging,  Preservation Microfilming Services,  Microform Scanning,  Digital Archive Hosting,  and  Document Management Solutions.

Libraries & Historical Societies

The Advantage Preservation team has been partnering with libraries, colleges, and historical societies to preserve their local history one community at a time. We take great pride in our work to preserve the past, make it accessible in the present, and ensure its future…..and it all starts with converting local historical newspapers and other documents onto 35mm Silver Halide Microfilm, It is critical to protect the valuable printed content, from the ravages of time. Our internal microfilm standards exceed ANSI/AIIM standards for microfilm preservation.

Newspaper Publishers

Newspaper publishers have recorded their community’s “first draft of history” everyday. We preserve that history, on microfilm, and partner with the publisher to make that preserved content widely available to interested libraries and institutions in their community and beyond. Our processes meet or exceed all ANSI/AIIM Standards for microfilm preservation. The service will be done at no cost to our qualifying publishing partners. The papers will be shipped to our facility in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, where they will be handled with care.  Qualifying publishers will also enjoy a revenue sharing opportunity on the content sold on a subscription basis to the interested libraries . The master negative copy can be stored at no additional charge in our state of the art vault under the publisher’s ownership. We are merely the custodian of the publisher’s intellectual property.

Government Agencies

The Advantage  team has been closely monitoring the painful condition and trends in the budgets of our state governments… and we are extremely conscious of the fact that one of the hardest hit areas over the past several years has been in document imaging and historic document preservation services in our government libraries, historical societies, archives, & other agencies.  Often the cuts have been deep, and in many cases, these institutions have been under funded, or no longer receive funding at all. We have developed several service offering and solutions in the wake of the ongoing budget cuts and resource allocations…many provided at no cost to the state or its tax payers.

Educational Institutions

Advantage Archives  has been working with educational institutions of all sizes, public and private for many years, and we understand the importance of the services they provide their students, their community, their state, and beyond. We have partnered with these college & university libraries, K-12 schools, & other educational institutions to provide subscriptions to newspapers on microfilm,  preservation microfilming services,  digital access solutions, and much, much more. We also recognize that the administration is burdened with more paperwork than ever before. Dealing with paper-based business processes while struggling to comply with regulations such as NCLB, FERPA and HIPAA is resource intensive to say he least. Our document scanning  and conversion solutions for educational institutions can help reduce costs, improve staff productivity and provide superior service to departments, faculty, students and parents.

Commercial Markets

Historical preservation is far from our only area of expertise! Our dedicated commercial document imaging solution division AdvantageIMS,  is dedicated to providing solutions to industries and government agencies everywhere. Businesses large and small value their partnership with Advantage, as much as we value ours with them. Archiving and retrieving information may not be your core competency, but it is ours. We provide solutions tailored to your industries including hospitals, universities, law firms, manufacturing companies, research firms, transportation, and any other business that generates paperwork. Advantage’s commercial division has provided document management solutions for many years. We pride ourselves in our understanding of business documents and their impact on your bottom line. We listen to your needs and requirements and design a solution specific to your company and its’ clients.


Learn More