Microfilm Today


9. Microfilm services available in the UK

A very wide range of services are available to assist those planning the introduction or modification of a microfilm system. These range from total outsourcing of the entire operation to the sub-contracting of specific elements.  Consultants offer general or specialist knowledge and there are also a number of associations, publications and exhibitions to help system designers keep abreast of new developments.

Outsourcing the management of a microfilm system

More and more organisations are concentrating on their mainstream activity and outsourcing subsidiary operations.  An electronic mailroom, for example, may be operated as an in-house system or entrusted to an experienced bureau which will receive and scan all mail and distribute it digitally to the appropriate recipients. Many microfilm bureaux can undertake all processes needed to maintain and update a microfilm application, working from their own premises or their client's.


For many years G G Baker & Associates offered totally independent consultancy services so we have a rather strict interpretation of the term. Many service houses offer excellent advisory services relating to the facilities they offer and we intend no disrespect by stating that we feel that no advisor can claim to be totally independent if he or she is engaged in selling a particular solution. However the service houses have accumulated vast knowledge over the years in which they have provided microfilm services; they represent a vast pool of knowledge which they frequently share without charge. 

Film scanning services

The majority of bureaux that offer film scanning facilities can digitise roll film. High volume fiche and jacket scanning requires special equipment and the choice of service houses is more limited. Aperture card scanning is also a specialised area usually undertaken by bureaux which offer other drawing-related services such as large document scanning.

Conversion services

A wide variety of conversion services are available in the UK, The conversion of digital data to microfilm is generally known as Computer Output Microfilming (COM) but if the input comes from a CAD system it is more often called COM Plotting. If data is output from a computer system to optical disk it is known as Computer Output to Laser Disk (COLD). Other frequent conversions are from raster to vector format and vice versa and - for material on film - conversion from large formats to 35mm.

COM input may be on-line from a computer system but it is normally from transportable media such as disk or tape when COM is performed as an outsourced operation.  According to the application, output can be on 16 or 35mm roll film, microfiche or aperture cards Thought must be given to the method of subsequent retrieval of the data from film and COM service bureaux can assist with suitable indexing, cartridge labels etc.  

Typical applications for COM include archival storage of large volumes of digital data which must be retained but is seldom referenced. By holding the information on film those responsible for the computer system generating the data are relieved of the necessity to preserve access to outdated media as the system matures, while maintenance tasks such as reformatting for compatibility with new software can be avoided. Information held on magnetic tape requires periodic rewinding as tape tends to stretch over time but film requires minimal maintenance.

All microfilm formats are fully standardised and it is just as simple to use a roll of film produced fifty years ago as one generated yesterday. Film life is estimated at up to 500 years under suitable conditions and abundant guidance is available for those seeking the best possible long-term preservation. If information stored on film is subsequently needed by a computer system it can be scanned and digitised - most COM service bureaux also offer film scanning facilities for this purpose.

For many years COM was widely used as a publishing medium by banks, airlines and automobile manufacturers to keep information on microfiche updated at remote locations including branches, dealers and distributors, but it has been overtaken by the web and on-line systems for those applications. Microfiche, including colour fiche, of books and research results are still widely used in libraries and film produced by COM still plays an important role in the preservation of records such as census and survey results after they have been analysed.

It is simple and inexpensive to make duplicate copies of microfilm and this greatly increases security. Additional copies can be held in different locations for protection against loss by fire or flood. When records are made available for use by the public, the master films can be kept in perfect condition and copies used for reference. Special microfilm readers have been developed which are robust enough to withstand use by inexperienced operators for use in libraries and similar area where there is an interface with the general public - some can be fitted with coin slots and timers to permit charging for their use.

When G G Baker & Associates first made use of computers for book production IBM had not invented the PC and the market was dominated by Commodore and Apple. All of our early publications were held on floppy disks in cardboard sleeves and none of them can be read today. This scenario is typical of computing, with new and superior hardware, software and storage media continuously being introduced. For some applications this poses few problems, but for others vital data has to be converted to a new format every time new software or storage methods are adopted - sometimes with significant loss of data and layout. Expert help may be needed and some service houses specialise in such data migration. Other common services include data conversion to PDF format to make it universally readable when offered on the web.

Some bureaux claim to offer reformatting services without specifying exactly what they can undertake, but we have included as much information as we could obtain from their websites in the conversion services section of this site.

Micrographic services

Many document scanning bureaux in the UK started life as microfilming services and still offer processing, filming and duplicating, facilities for users of microfilm. The technology is explained in detail in the microfilm today section of this Guide. When reformatting of microfilm is necessary, it is usually an isolated operation which does not warrant the purchase of special hardware. Some microfilm bureaux offer film conversion services to make photographic collections available on roll or fiche, old half-plate records of drawings can be converted to standard aperture cards and roll formats can be converted to microfiche.

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1. Introduction

2. Microfilm today

3. Getting started

4. Input and output methods

5. Indexing and retrieval

6. Management and control

7. Storage and preservation

8. Hybrid systems

9. Services available

10. Standards

Webmaster: Gerald Baker     Last update 14/1/2018     G G Baker & Associates 2018