Where have all the innovators gone?

Microfilm as a long-term storage media for digital data – dots and spaces not analogue text?

In this Industry/Profession we hear a continual call from our ranks for the leaders of Business and Government to join us in our belief in the long-term benefit of using microfilm as the, or at least one of the preferred long term storage medias.

These leaders appear to be ignoring our plea or are deaf to our arguments. Poor old Microfilm they say, its time has passed, not up to today’s needs, old tech can’t meet our instant retrieval requirement etc.

Where have we gone wrong?

Where are the visionaries? Is anyone ready to stand up and be counted?

Why not Digital Microfilm?

We now have CCD [charge-coupled devices] and CMOS [complementary metal-oxide semiconductor] arrays in use in the millions of Digital Cameras and other similar devices and the capture clarity and speed increases day by day. How many dots and spaces can one fit on a 35 mm wide strip of film? No frame spaces required so in theory the whole 30 Metres [100 Feet] of microfilm is available in one continuous data stream. What about 1,000 feet or even larger rolls of 35 mm microfilm? How many bytes, KB, MB, TB or PB [Either 1 quadrillion bytes or 1,125,899,906,842,624 bytes.] can be crammed onto a continuous length of 35 mm film of whatever practical length?

Has anyone attempted this process? The answer is yes! Did it become a commercial reality? The answer is a big NO! Why? CD-ROM arrived on the scene at around the same time and put paid to this Australian R&D project.

The Australian system used Bell & Howell and Anacomp (Datagraphix) COM units to produce microfiche with a capacity, at the time of 2 Megabytes per fiche using a specific character set. The density of data per fiche at the time was restricted, to my knowledge, due to the capacity of the reading arrays available so with the current crop of CCD & CMOS arrays the density rate may be able to be improved dramatically.

A feature of the process was the low error rate achieved with error rates being achieved as low as 1 bit per 1,000 or an actual delivery error rate of 1 error per 100,000,000,000 bits, e.g. 1 error per 5,000 Microfiche. Not bad!

With a revised character set or a rethink on the possibilities using today’s improved though less numerous COM devices who knows what capacity could be achieved.

The system was installed and running at the test site for 12 months with some issues still to be resolved.

If anyone is interested in the possibilities indicated above for a long-term storage media which is immune to electromagnetic pulses and may have applications of a short-term nature as well and who has a few million Australia $’s to fund the R&D to bring this partially proven concept to market or to purchase the Intellectual Property involved, contact me and we can work out a deal.

Laurie Varendorff ARMA

The Author

Laurie Varendorff, ARMA, a former RMAA Western Australia Branch president & national director, has been involved in records management and the micrographic industry for 37 years. Laurie has his own microfilm equipment sales & support organisation – Digital Microfilm Equipment – DME – and a – records & information management – RIM – consulting & training business – The Varendorff Consultancy – TVC – located near Perth, Western Australia, & has tutored & written course material in recordkeeping & archival storage & preservation for Perth’s Edith Cowan University – ECU. Phone: +618 9286 3705; mobile: +61 417 094 147; email @ Laurie Varendorff

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