Three Industry Shifts that May be Driving Demand for Microfilm Digitization in 2021

2020 was a transformative year for all industries, forcing businesses to reconsider their infrastructure. Organizations worldwide have acted quickly to mitigate a new working arrangement that had not been envisioned even among the most extreme business continuity plans.  Over the last year, we have seen nearly every business become more heavily reliant on digital technologies than at any other time in modern history.  Specifically, this newfound dependence has highlighted the need to eliminate the use of archaic analog systems. Organizations across all industries embrace remote business strategies and have quickly realized working and providing services by virtual means has become necessary for survival. However, those that have held onto microfilm or microfiche find it challenging, if not impossible, to work with this antiquated medium under current climates.

Microfilm, although once revolutionary, today delivers a problematic experience for the modern user. Whether a county government office, archive, or bank, each institution regularly works with hundreds of thousands if not millions of microfilm records, but many still utilize old microfilm readers to access this information. Inaccessibility is an obstacle for those organizations, and being digital is no longer an option in today’s business climate – in which most work is performed virtually. The dilemma with old microfilm readers is that they are stationary, clunky, and remain on unsupported technologies so far removed from the modern tech era that they have proven to be more inefficient than useful. The use of outdated equipment limits time and resources that could be used by staff for more critical business operations. The pandemic of 2020 also has restricted availability to those that wish to access their microfilm archives as most places have been closed, have limited hours, or allow a limited number of people into the building at any one time.

These limitations have boosted the urgency and importance of digitization. 2021 may be the year that drives priority for many businesses who have considered digitization in the past, and even those new to the idea. To combat the sheer volume of microfilm archives that need to be digitized, nextScan has developed the world’s fastest production scanners and the most sophisticated workflow software application for microfilm and microfiche conversion. nextScan works closely with government, commercial businesses, conversion service bureaus, and archival entities to deliver cost-effective and cutting-edge scanners and software for high-volume production-level microfilm conversion.

As the industry experts specializing in microfilm conversion equipment, we thought it would be essential to share our experience over the last nine months with other industry professionals. Here are three industry shifts on microfilm digitization trends we’ve seen this year:

Covid-19 Restrictions that Limited
Access to Physical Records are
Driving 2021 Demand for Digitization

Organizations that have held onto physical records (whether paper or microfilm) but not embraced digitization now recognize that they face an increasingly complex set of issues characterized by their heightened dependency on digital technologies. With restrictions preventing access to places of business and physical records, the need to have microfilm records digitized and readily accessible has become more critical to successful operations.

How was the pandemic impacting the industry? We were curious and decided to conduct a survey. nextScan sent out a survey to 5,297 records managers, archivists, and conversion service bureaus in June of 2020. When asked, more than half, 65% of those that responded, indicated that they anticipate government and private businesses will prioritize digitization projects in the next 12-24 months to make physical documents more accessible to the public. Based on an unexpected shift in business demands and survey results from industry experts, nextScan projects that microfilm digitization projects have become a priority for many 2021 budget cycles. Many seem to be preparing to add to their conversion capabilities. Over 59% of those that responded to our survey indicated that their business or archive would indeed be adding to their conversion capabilities to scan more documents in the next 12 months to meet increased demand. Inaccessibility to microfilm records appears to be a more prominent issue for the government and public sectors than the business and private sectors.  Of those who responded, 53% expect demand for digital access to microfilm and microfiche from the government and public sector to go up, compared to 44% for business and private sectors.

Microfilm Conversion Service Bureaus are
Adapting to a New Digitization Workflow

Higher demand for microfilm digitization is not the only trend we see due to the pandemic. We’ve also identified drastic adaptations to new digitization workflows on behalf of those that run conversion operations.  During lockdowns, organizations have adapted to ensure their most important processes could be carried on remotely. nextScan’s conversion service bureau clients, much like all other industries, have been forced to adapt to new working environments and new workflows around the obstacle of restricted physical access. For example, organizations may have conducted all scanning and auditing operations in their facilities; now, new processes may include scanning at a facility or remote location and performing audit and quality assurance via a secure remote connection.

nextScan’s microfilm conversion scanners can offer flexibility when combined with remote connection solutions that allow your users to scan ribbons and conduct audit and post-scan image enhancements from any location. nextScan clients have been taking advantage of remote scanning and auditing capabilities to ensure business continuity even during  COVID-19 lockdowns. 

“We have been working patiently with customers as they adapt to their new work environments, ensuring they have everything they need to be successful,” says Charlotte Olson, Technical Support Technician at nextScan. During the pandemic onset, nextScan’s support department was inundated with calls for assistance with setting up remote connections on nextScan scanning systems. nextScan’s NextStarPLUS workflow software offers optional remote scanning capabilities to end users by allowing microfilm ribbons to be scanned to disk-packs and then delivered to the client’s centralized processing facility by sneaker-net or express delivery. nextScan technicians can consult users and help them identify the appropriate remote setup for their auditing stations to perform quality assurance remotely on all ribbon files scanned by the NextStarPlus system.

Microfilm Digitization Becomes Invaluable to Safeguarding Information from Being Lost Forever to Natural Disasters or Film Degradation

In addition to limited access and new workflows amid the pandemic, microforms pose pre-existing problems driving up digitization demand. As old film ages, it becomes at risk of film degradation and natural disasters such as fire, flood, etc. As a result, the need to digitize and safeguard data becomes more critical than ever before.

Although rare, natural disasters do happen. For one of our county clerk clients, three natural disasters expedited her organization’s urgency to transition from microfilm to digital. Their office housed over 12,100 microfilm rolls containing legal documents that date as far back as the 1860s. Since 2015, her records room experienced three floods that have threatened the wellbeing of their priceless microfilm records. Consider that each microfilm roll contains up to 2,400 images. As a result of these floods, the organization could have lost more than 29 million individual court records. The loss of these historical records would have been devastating.

Additional issues like film degradation are common for organizations that have failed to store their microfilm properly. To prevent degradation, microfilm requires a temperature and humidity-controlled environment, especially for Acetate Film. nextScan has received phone calls from many microfilm users who complain the image quality is often poor when they use their on-demand scanner. After digging into this, nextScan discovered when the image quality is questionable, the film scanned in most cases is Acetate Film.

For those unfamiliar, any film created before 1985 is Acetate Film. The problem with Acetate Film is that images can fade over time if not properly stored. Among other reasons, if the film was not adequately washed during the film processing phase, the chemicals will continue to affect the images’ quality on your microfilm. This type of film is also prone to be brittle and can tear easily. In a perfect world, all this film would have been stored in a climate-controlled vault that held steady temperature and humidity levels. At one time, it was predicted that microfilm could last up to 500 years, but we’ve since come to find this is not reality.  

Originally published by reporter Jayme Boyum with KLTV News, the video below is the precautionary tale of Gregg County Texas, and their battle with microfilm records exhibiting film degradation:

Video Source:
Boyum, Jamie. “Gregg County’s microfilm is under attack.” KLTV News, uploaded on 9 July 2018 (Click Here to View Direct Source)

Most records managers and archivists, if not all that handle microforms, may have come across Vinegar Syndrome associated with Acetate Film. Aside from the vinegary odor, if you examine the film closely, it looks like it just came down with a case of measles. When you see these red dots all over your microfilm, this is called Redox. You can not get rid of the Redox but you can preserve what is on film before it worsens. Much like the virus we are dealing with today, vinegar syndrome spreads rapidly from film to film.  nextScan, along with many conversion service providers, encourages all users who have identified this problem in their microfilm collection to utilize a microfilm conversion scanner or conversion services to create a digital dupe. If a physical microfilm dupe is still needed, the digital file can be transferred back onto microfilm using an image writer.


Businesses are embracing virtual environments to foster safe spaces but working virtually, especially with microfilm, is not without its limitations. Restricting accessibility to places of business has proven that microfilm has become so antiquated it is nearly impossible to work with under current business dynamics. The inaccessibility challenges onset by the pandemic seem to be driving up a need for microfilm digitization across many private and public business sectors and shaping new working environments for conversion service bureaus. Additionally, microfilm digitization is a vital measure that needs to be taken to safeguard information from being lost to other challenges and threats like natural disasters or film degradation. While the world is on schedule to return to normal sometime this year, the lessons of 2020 seem to have shaped industry trends that point out a growing need for microfilm digitization. With all these challenges to overcome, perhaps microfilm digitization becomes more invaluable and prioritized in 2021 than it has ever before.

About nextScan

nextScan is a global leader in cutting edge technology for the micrographics conversion and document management industry. Incorporated in 2002, nextScan was established to give the microfilm and microfiche conversion market a high-performance alternative to existing technologies. Today, nextScan equipment installations can be found in over 45 countries worldwide. nextScan’s innovative patented products are designed and built with simplicity and functionality to increase user production and lower overall costs for scanning film and fiche.

nextScan’s industry leading scanning technology has allowed the company to develop the highest speed production scanner and the most sophisticated workflow software application for microfilm and microfiche conversion in the government, corporate, service bureau and archival industries. By combining resources and technology, nextScan and ST Imaging are able to offer the fasted conversion speeds and feature rich imaging software to all segments of the micrographic marketplace. nextScan products are designed with cutting edge components – the latest in cameras, LED stroboscopic lighting, image correction, and workflow software. NextStarPLUS ribbon scanning software, now featuring redaction and OCR, along with nextScan’s Virtual Film and FicheStar software dramatically reduce conversion time and project costs. nextScan products provide a full conversion solution that far exceeds the speed, functionality and return on investment when compared to other scanners in the market.


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