News from the State and Local Government RecordsCommissions.
vol. 2 No. 1
June, 1997


Microfilm can be a useful tool in any records program, if the necessary steps are taken to see that it is properly produced. Standards for microfilm production are available from the American National Standards Institute (ANSI, [212]642-4900) and the Association for Information and Image Management (AIIM, [301]587-8202.) Too often, however, an agency hoping to capitalize on microfilm's ease of retrieval and space savings will fail to ensure that its vendor follows these nationally approved standards, or will attempt to operate an in-house micrographic laboratory without the proper guidance. When created under such conditions, microfilm cannot assure either improved access to public records or their long-term preservation. Thus, its potential benefits will not be realized, and the cost savings it is intended to provide will be wasted on refilming or even "written off" when the microfilming program is abandoned.

Such an outcome is unfortunate, because properly created microfilm is an extremely effective records storage medium. Microfilm can preserve records of long-term retention (20 years or more) at less cost than keeping the paper originals, and in about 2% of the space originals require. Correctly processed silver gelatin (silver halide) film, stored under controlled conditions of humidity and temperature, will last up to 500 years. If an agency plans its microfilming program carefully and adheres to recognized ANSI/AIIM standards, it can avert problems with its film or remedy them quickly if they do occur. This article will identify and briefly discuss some common microfilming problems. While it is written primarily for agencies with their own filming operations, agencies that employ filming vendors should also be aware of the potential problems. The Department of Archives and History's technical leaflets (current and forthcoming) provide more detailed information for state and local agencies on such topics as storing microfilm properly, contracting with vendors, and conducting their own microfilming programs.

Problems during Document Preparation and Filming

Problems can occur at any stage of the filming process, but they begin immediately if original documents are not properly prepared. Dirty, torn, or faded documents are not likely to film well. To the extent compatible with their condition, artifactual value, and retention requirements, they should be brushed clean and mended (on the back side of the document) with archival tape. Remove all staples, paper clips, and other fasteners. Be sure that the documents are in correct order prior to filming.

Most filming problems are caused by human error, so camera operators must always be alert to the many things that can go wrong. For example:

Unclean filming areas: Dust or paper scraps from documents may appear on the microfilmed images or clog a rotary camera's moving parts. Such problems can be minimized by vacuuming the camera at least daily, and more often if required.

Improper positioning of documents: Operators using planetary cameras must be sure that documents do not shake or slip while they are filmed. (With rotary cameras, the documents are constantly in motion.) Documents must be positioned properly, and the operator should stop filming if an external source vibrates the camera. Improper positioning can lead to portions of documents being cut off or filmed facing in the wrong direction. If the operator's hands stray into the camera's field while filming, their shadow may obscure the text.

Camera problems: Camera focus must be checked frequently during filming; otherwise, some images may be unreadable. Naturally, the camera should be in a dark room and be protected from any outside source of light. Light reflected off objects in the room can also ruin filmed images. Faulty camera lights adversely affect film density and resolution. To ensure proper illumination of the image to be filmed, lighting balance must be uniform. Camera lamps darken with use and should be changed when they start to dim (normally about every six months). Be sure to change all the lamps at the same time. Voltage variations also alter film exposure and must be monitored, although some rotary cameras have automatic controls that compensate for variations. Technical targets monitoring density and resolution should be used on every roll of film. Results should be checked against appropriate ANSI/AIIM standards and recorded to track the camera's performance over time.

Problems During Film Processing

Properly processed film should be free from scratches, dust, chemical residue, water spots, and physical deformation. result Although improper filming methods can cause some of these defects, more result from problems during film processing.

Equipment/handling problems: Rough handling or sharp edges in the processor may nick or tear the film. Improper threading causes film to track improperly and jam in the processor. Excess silver on the rollers the scratches microfilm. Silver recovery, a process that removes silver from the fixer, is an economic measure that regulations, agencies may wish to consider. To avoid violating environmental regulations, an agency should consult and standards published by ANSI, AIIM, or OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) before dumping can used chemicals down the drain. Finally, because oils from their hands can destroy the filmed images, film technicians should always wear cotton or nylon gloves while handling processed microfilm.

Temperature/water problems: Ideally, the temperature of the developer should not vary by more than 1/2 degree F., as wide temperature fluctuations cause the film's emulsion layer to separate from its base (emulsion reticulation). Excessive drying can lead to brittle film. Although the manufacturer's recommendations may generally be safely followed, drying temperatures should never exceed 160 degrees F. In order to meet ANSI/AIIM standards, microfilm must be washed properly and the results checked by a methylene blue test. The water used in film development should not be too hard or soft (16-150 parts/million of CaCO3). Impurities while in water may make the processor's rollers stick and scratch the images, while too many solids in the water may foul the processor's "squeegee," leaving residue or water spots on film. These problems can be avoided by attaching a filter to the processor.

Density problems: It is important that film density meet approved ANSI/AIIM standards. The agency should be sure that its camera is able to produce microfilm of uniform density on a consistent basis, and should employ a densitometer to monitor film density. Be sure to calibrate the densitometer, using a calibrated step test, every time it is turned on.

To prevent microfilm processing problems, follow the manufacturer's instructions and guidelines and perform routine inspections of all processing equipment and film. Sensitometric control strips should be used to check the processor. After processing, and before duplication, the microfilm should be visually inspected for image quality and accuracy of record information.

Microfilm Storage Problems

Microforms should be stored in an environmentally controlled facility. Improper storage can shorten the life of microfilm, lessening its value as a preservation medium. Microfilm in a storage facility should therefore be inspected periodically to be sure that none of the following problems has arisen:

Fungi: Fungus spores are found in the surrounding air and are usually quite harmless in a dry, cool environment. In temperatures above 70 F. and relative humidity above 60%, they multiply rapidly and attack film gelatin. Fungi can be found on the emulsion surface or on the front or back of the film. The resulting damage and chemical breakdown cause the gelatin to become distorted, sticky, and soluble in water. Damage from fungi is usually permanent, but most minor fungi can be removed by a qualified vendor.

Oxidation: Local oxidation of image silver results in the formation of small deposits of colloidal silver. These spots are known as redox blemishes and are reddish or yellowish in color. Possible oxidizing agents that cause redox are aerial oxygen, peroxides, ozone, sulfur dioxide, and hydrogen sulfide, as well as others. These agents can be found in many storage containers, in polluted air, or on people's hands. Redox blemishes can appear in less than a year if film is not stored properly. High or fluctuating humidity and temperature in the storage area increase the rate of redox formation. Scratches in the film's emulsion, which may result from poor filming or processing techniques, offer excellent areas for redox to form rapidly.

Improper Temperature and Humidity Controls: It is highly advisable that silver microfilm masters be stored in an environmentally controlled storage facility. Film should be stored at a temperature between 60 and 70 F. and a relative humidity between 30 and 40%. Very dry and warm storage conditions can cause film to become brittle, which may be remedied by placing it in an environment of 45-50% humidity for several days. Very low humidity (below 30%) can damage film by causing the gelatin layers to contract and impose stress on the adhesion. Fluctuations in relative humidity from moderate to very low and back again (as when film is moved in and out of storage) can cause peeling, flaking, or cracking of the emulsion.

Other Considerations: For reasons already cited, cotton or nylon gloves should be worn at all times while handling processed silver gelatin microfilm. Never use rubber bands to hold film in place on reels. Prolonged exposure to fluorescent lights should also be avoided. Microfilm storage containers should meet ANSI/AIIM requirements. Because diazo film (a more durable, less expensive film used for service copies) gives off fumes that can harm silver film, the two should not be stored together. Similarly, microfilm should not be stored in an area that has recently been carpeted or painted.

For micrographic publications (see below) and more information on handling micrographic problems, agencies may contact the ADAH Government Records Division at (334)242-4452. Agencies that are considering whether to start microfilming programs, or to have records microfilmed, should also consult the various micrographic standards available through AIIM and other standards organizations.

New ADAH Publications Approved

Two technical leaflets, prepared by the ADAH Government Records Division, were approved by the two Records Commissions on April 24. The first, "Preparing a Contract for Archival-Quality Microfilming Services," outlines the technical standards and procedures necessary to produce archival-quality microfilm of long-term government records. State or local agencies should insist that any vendor they employ to microfilm such records complies with these standards and procedures. The leaflet provides a sample vendor contract. The Commissions also approved a revised edition of "Guidelines for the Use of Digital Imaging Technologies for Long-Term Government Records in Alabama." First issued in 1994, this leaflet has recently been reviewed by the Information Services Division, Department of Finance, to ensure that the information it provides on digital technology is current and correct. Finally, the State Records Commission approved a new procedural leaflet, "Developing an Agency Records Disposition Authority: Procedures for State Officials." For copies of these and other records-related publications, contact the Government Records Division at (334)242-4452.

Records Disposition Authorities and Schedules Approved by the State and Local Government Records Commissions


The following new or revised general records schedules were approved by the Commission:

STATE-SUPPORTED UNIVERSITIES: Administrative Staff Search Files (Applicants Not Hired), Dispatch Records, General Correspondence, Individual Staff and Faculty Personnel Files, Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee Files, Parking Service Complaint and Assistance Reports, and Vehicle Emergency Assistance Waivers (7 schedules).

At its meeting on April 24, 1997, the Local Government Records Commission approved the following new or revised schedules:

LOCAL LAW ENFORCEMENT AGENCIES: Records of Election (1 schedule).

MUNICIPALITIES: Records of Election, Water System Sanitary Surveys, Water System Regulation Violation Correction Reports, Water System Regulation Exemption Records, and Water System Customer Complaint Logs (5 schedules).

For copies of these Records Disposition Authorities or schedules, call the ADAH Government Records Division at (334) 242-4452.

The next meeting of the State and Local Government Records Commissions will be held on Thursday, July 31, 1997, in the Milo B. Howard Auditorium of the Alabama Department of Archives and History, 624 Washington Avenue, Montgomery. Starting times are 10:00 a.m. (state) and 1:30 p.m. (local).

ADAH Continues Microfilming Survey

Since suspending its laboratory certification program several months ago, the ADAH Government Records Division has offered direct assistance to state and local agencies in micrographics. This assistance includes both on-site visits and publications, such as the new technical leaflet on microfilming service contracts. In the last issue of "Government Records News," state and local agencies were asked to complete a survey providing information on their current microfilming practices. So far, the response has been extremely limited, especially among agencies that are known to have active micrographic programs. Information provided by this survey will help the Government Records Division determine future priorities for publications, training programs, and other guidance in this area. We would like to obtain as broad a sampling as possible, and your agency's cooperation will be appreciated. Please complete the form found on page 5 of this newsletter and return it to ADAH as soon as possible. Results of the survey will be published in a later issue of "Government Records News."

"Government Records News" is published by the Government Records Division of the Alabama Department of Archives and History, Box 300 l 00, Montgomery, Alabama 36130-0100, telephone (334)242-4452.

JUNE, 1997

Alabama Department of Archives and History

March, 1997

1. Name of agency (division/department) ________________________________________________

2. Name/title of person completing survey _______________________________________________

3. Are any of your agency's records currently being microfilmed? yes / no

4. So far as you know, were any records previously microfilmed? yes / no
If so, do you hold copies of that microfilm? yes / no

5. What types of agency records are microfilmed?__________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________________

6. Do these records have approved disposition authorities or schedules? yes / no

7. Are original paper records destroyed after filming? yes / no

8. Which film format(s) do you use? roll film / cartridges / microfiche / jackets / aperture cards

9. Do you, or does your vendor, use targets to identify the agency and the records filmed OR technical targets for testing microfilm quality? ___________________________

10. Who processes your microfilm? your agency / another agency (name) ____________________ commercial vendor (name) _____________________________

11. After processing, does your agency check the film for:
completeness/accuracy of records filmed? yes / no
legibility? yes / no
chemical residue on film? yes / no

12. Where are your microfilm masters stored? your agency / another agency __________________ commercial vendor ___________________________

13. So far as you know, does this storage area meet archival standards? yes / no

14. If your agency does not now microfilm records, would you consider doing so? yes / no

15. Does your agency need assistance from ADAH in the area of micrographics? yes / no
If so, please provide the name/telephone number of a contact person ________________________ ________________________

16. Comments: _____________________________________________________________________ _______________________________________________________________________________ _______________________________________________________________________________

Please print, fill out, and return this form to the Government Records Division, Alabama Department of Archives and History, P.O. Box 300100, Montgomery, AL 36130-0100. FAX: (334)240-3433.

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Revised: 7/9/97