Micrographics down under

As this is the first view of the micrographic scene in Australia a little history could be helpful.

My entry exposure to micrographics was in 1974 when I managed a CopiCentre for Rank Xerox [now Fuji Xerox] in Perth. Microfilm had been established well before this time with both Kodak, 3M and Bell & Howell being the major players across Australia. The bureau business [source document] in Western Australia was created by Kodak. When Kodak decided to exit the market [as the market had matured and did not need their support] the two leading employees, Brian Davis and John Brown set up a source document bureau, Microfilm Service using the Kodak equipment and following the Kodak ways as being long time employees of Kodak they had yellow blood running in their veins.

3M as well as Kodak played a significant role in the 1960’s with the installation of one or several 3M COM units with the Western Australian [WA] Government [due to limited output capability from the 3M units they were mothballed, and commercial bureaus took over the government applications]. The commercial market at this time installed two Kodak COM units in a computer data processing bureau, Data Processing Australia owned by John Lasberger. The two COM units were operated by several ex-Kodak employees from Melbourne.

The microfilm environment across Australia has historically been split into two sectors, one providing COM services and the second providing source document filming services. In later years, these two sectors become one either by accusation or with one sector crossing the border and either installing COM units or installing source document capability.

Many if not all State and Federal Governments during the period of the 1960’s through the early to mid 1990’s operated their own microfilm source document bureaus with the federal government having both source document and COM capabilities. These government bureaux have either been disbanded or migrated to existing or newly created archival filming operations within State Libraries with WA, South Australia, the National Library and Queensland providing archival filming with 16 and 35 mm capabilities plus large format scanning at least in Queensland and with the intention of doing so in Western Australia with equipment being installed that can be updated to A0 scanning at a later stage.

Where are we now in 2003?

Major changes have occurred across Australia and the process is continuing in the rationalisation and continuing reduction in micrographic activities. In Western Australian major changes in micrographics commenced in the mid 1990’s with the closure of the State Government Microfilm Bureau and the transfer of its downsized archival filming capability to the State Library’s Preservation Services operations. There was also a rationalisation of the COM market with the amalgamation of the two COM bureaus which was connected to a national change along similar lines and the creation of Hermes Precisa Australia [HPA] then a nonaligned conglomerate. In 1998 my own bureau closed due to economic pressures and a reduction in microfilm utilisation by major government agencies and my lack of success in generating other revenue streams plus being targeted by opposition forces. This process is continuing with the major player in the WA market, Hermes Precisa Australia [HPA] ceasing to provide a microfilm service even though it is now owned 51% by Kodak [to the best of my knowledge]. There are some mixed signals here with Kodak’s international promotion of the use of microfilm as a desirable and long-term preservation media and its own organisation ceasing to provide microfilm services in any format in WA.

Ben Tosetto of Australian Microfilm Services [AMS] in Melbourne advises that his source document filming activities have reduced from three high speed Kodak Imagelink 70 units down to the same increase in numbers on the high-speed scanning units with now three Kodak 9000 series and i800 units installed.

Where does microfilm come into this newer scanning process? At the end after the imaging process with the digital data being archived to 16 mm film via Kodak Archive writers.

Is this to be the future for microfilm? Maybe, and maybe not. Let’s pursue this subject in a future article.

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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