Government Records News
News from the State and Local Government Record Commissions
Vol. 2 No. 4
February 1998


Microfilm, when produced according to standards approved by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) and the Association for Image and Information Management (AIIM), can be a valuable tool in any records program. Once an agency has decided to microfilm its records, it must choose whether to film in-house or to hire an outside service bureau. Microfilming involves a number of activities: selecting, preparing, and filming documents; processing and inspecting film; shooting and splicing retakes; making service copies; and transporting and storing film. Because various methods of allocating work are feasible, the options open to an agency depend upon the money, time, and expertise it has on hand. Large, well-funded agencies, or those contemplating long-term microfilming programs, can probably justify investing in the staff and equipment needed for a full-service, in-house laboratory. Small agencies may find it more cost-effective to hire a qualified commercial vendor, especially if they desire only occasional or small-scale microfilming work. Some agencies film their own records but outsource the processing and duplication. Finding the method that works best requires a careful analysis of the project's goals, benefits, and costs. However, ANSI/AIIM standards and procedures must be followed whatever filming method your agency may choose.


1. Factors to Consider in Making a Decision

Access to Records: If records set aside for filming should be needed for quick reference, they are more accessible in-house than in the custody of an outside vendor. However, this problem can be minimized if the timely pick-up, filming, and return of records are guaranteed in the micrographic service contract.

Control: An agency surrenders direct management control by turning microfilming over to a service bureau, making it harder to ensure that the resulting film meets applicable ANSI/AIIM standards. The best safeguard is, again, a contract that sets forth those standards and clearly states the penalties for non-compliance. By conducting its own micrographic program, an agency assumes full control of filming, processing, and duplication. It should be able to monitor problems with personnel, turnaround time, or product quality and to correct those problems quickly. Whether an agency chooses to hire a vendor or to film in-house, it accepts responsibility for ensuring that appropriate micrographic standards are maintained.

Cost: As noted above, agencies with limited or short-term microfilming needs will normally save money by employing a vendor. A service bureau, benefitting from high volume, can usually operate more cheaply and efficiently than small in-house laboratories. Because the price of staff and equipment (cameras, reader-printers, and processor) will run to tens of thousands of dollars, only an agency that contemplates ongoing, large-scale micrographic work should make the investment needed for an in-house operation. However, once initial costs are met, such an agency can often microfilm at less expense than would be charged by vendors. Service bureaus build in a profit margin; public offices do not. Even in-house operations cannot be entirely independent, as they must find a reliable vendor of supplies and maintenance. Agencies that lease equipment or outsource processing will lower their costs; but long-term maintenance, repair, and replacement must also be considered.

Expertise: Learning to microfilm efficiently takes time, while film processing and quality testing require special expertise. By employing a vendor, an agency avoids the "adjustment period" needed to train its own camera operators and processing staff. A good service bureau can immediately begin producing microfilm that meets ANSI/AIIM standards, so long as these standards have been clearly stated in its contract. Nevertheless, the agency cannot take for granted that its vendor will routinely follow standards without proper supervision.

Flexibility: Records microfilming often calls for different camera and film requirements. Archival records, for example, should be reproduced only on silver halide film with a life expectancy (LE) rating of 500 years. Oversize documents, such as old deed books, require 35mm film to achieve a legible reduction ratio. Old, fragile records may be damaged by running them through a rotary camera, where documents are constantly in motion. Usually, service bureaus can better afford a variety of equipment and supplies. An agency should not, however, rely on its vendor to select the best camera and film type for its records. Before signing a contract, it should ask the vendor to film a sample of its records and examine the results. Every aspect of the filming operation, including camera and film type, should be established in the service contract. Such foresight will eliminate many miscommunications.

Security: With an in-house microfilming operation, the agency's records remain on its premises and are handled only by its staff. Records sent to a service bureau are at greater risk of loss or damage. Even if their repair or replacement is promised in the filming contract, some records may be irreplaceable. Many micrographic vendors will film on-site at the agency, although usually at extra cost. Agencies that handle confidential information--such as probate offices, legal staffs, or police departments--should consider whether certain records are too sensitive to be seen by non-employees. Sometimes this problem is dealt with by having the camera operator sign an agreement (which appears as a target on the microfilm) not to reveal the contents of the records.

Space Renovation, Staff, and Technical Requirements: Any micrographic operation must have space for cameras and reader-printers. Full-service laboratories also need room for processing and duplicating equipment, along with a stable source of electric power (with a dedicated line for every camera) and hot and cold water facilities for the processor. For many agencies, meeting such requirements means an expensive renovation of existing space. To obtain technically proficient camera operators and film processors, agencies starting in-house programs must either retrain current employees or hire new ones. Producing quality microfilm requires attention to detail and strict quality control. Film of archival records, in particular, must continually be tested to ensure that it meets nationally accepted standards. Therefore, the agency's budget should include refilming costs, especially when inexperienced employees are operating the equipment. Helpful information for beginning microfilmers may be found in "Avoiding Common Microfilming Problems," Government Records News, Vol. 2, No. 1 (June 1997).


2. Making the Right Choice for Your Agency

In-house microfilming may be too expensive for most agencies; yet, those who employ a service bureau wager their records on its reliability and competence. Talk to several vendors before making a decision. Ask each for a list of customers; then ask the customers to verify the vendor's reputation. Your microfilming contract should specify the camera and type of film, the cost of service, the time estimated for completing work, and the ANSI/AIIM standards governing the contract. Vendor compliance with those standards is essential, because you--as the records' legal custodian--are responsible for ensuring that the microfilm preserves record information for as long as legally required. Of course, ANSI/AIIM standards and procedures apply equally to in-house microfilming programs. To assist state and local government officials, the Department of Archives and History's Government Records Division has published a technical leaflet, "Preparing a Contract for Archival-Quality Microfilming Services." It contains ANSI/AIIM's procedural guidelines for archival microfilm, a bibliography of ANSI/AIIM standards, and a sample vendor contract. ADAH staff can also offer advice on microfilming specifications and equipment, finding a vendor, or setting up an in-house laboratory. For more information, or for copies of the leaflet, call the Government Records Division at (334)242-4452.


Micrographic Workshop to be Held in March

On Friday, March 27, the ADAH Government Records Division will sponsor a one-day workshop entitled: "LE-500 Microfilm: The Choices Involved and the Steps to Get There." It will be held in the Archives Building's Milo B. Howard Auditorium, 624 Washington Avenue, Montgomery, beginning at 9:00 a.m. Topics to be covered are listed on the registration form inserted in this issue. Representatives from state and local agencies (whether or not they now have microfilming programs) and commercial microfilming vendors are invited to attend. Copies of relevant ADAH technical leaflets will be available to all participants. To register, please return the enclosed form by March 20, or fax a copy to the Government Records Division at (334)240-3433. For more information on the workshop, call the division at (334)242-4452.


Calling All Local Historical Societies!

ADAH would like to improve its communication with Alabama's local historical societies and to compile a definitive list. If you can provide basic information on a county, municipal, or regional historical society (name, address, phone/FAX numbers, e-mail address/web site, and contact person), please call Sandra Behel (ext. 232) or Tom Turley (ext. 234) at (334)242-4452, or write to them at the Government Records Division, Department of Archives and History, P.O. Box 300100, Montgomery, AL 36130.


New Records Disposition Authorities and Schedules Approved

At its meeting on January 29, 1998, the State Records Commission approved new records disposition authorities (RDAs) for the BOARD OF EXAMINERS FOR DIETETIC/NUTRITION PRACTICE, the BOARD OF HEARING INSTRUMENT DEALERS, the DEPARTMENT OF REVENUE, the STATE TREASURER, and the DEPARTMENT OF YOUTH SERVICES.

The Local Government Records Commission, also meeting on January 29, approved new records disposition schedules for the following agencies:

LOCAL LAW ENFORCEMENT AGENCIES: Vehicle Door Damage Waivers, Courtesy Security Reminders, and Parade Permit Applications/Permits (3 schedules).

MUNICIPALITIES: Parade Permit Applications/Permits (1 schedule).

The next meeting of the State and Local Government Records Commissions will be held on Wednesday, April 29, 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).

"Government Records News" is published by the Government Records Division of the Alabama Department of Archives and History, Box 300100, Montgomery, Alabama 36130-0100, telephone (334)242-4452. The newsletter, and other publications, are also available on-line through the ADAH web site:

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Updated: 3/5/1998