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YOU are the Ctrl-F Key: The Hidden Cost of Manual Microfilm Lookup (And How On-Demand Digital Conversion Can Help You Fix That)

Published Inside NIRMA Magazine Spring 2020 Issue

How much time does it take to look up just one record from a roll of microfilm? All you need to do is retrieve ONE piece of information from it. Simple! How long could that take?

In our day-to-day digital world, we have grown accustom to instantly receiving information, but anyone who’s worked with microfilm knows that getting information from that medium could result in a lengthy task. You just fell into the classic “trap” of manual retrieval – one of the biggest hidden time sinks of record requests from analog film.

The trouble with pulling records from microfilm is that you’re not done once you find the microfilm roll. You have only just begun. Any roll of microfilm might contain up to 1,500 documents, and it’s up to you to find the requested record.

How long will that take?

  • If you can identify a document from a quick glance at the title, one second per frame would mean it takes 25 minutes to get all the way through a roll of 1,500 documents.
  • If you have to take a more in-depth look, say 10 seconds, then that’s more than four hours per roll!
  • Sometimes you’ll be lucky and the document you want will be right at the start, but sometimes it’ll be at the end. Taking the average, you are looking through 750 documents.
  • That means that a typical “quick” records search of a full roll should take about 12 minutes, while an in-depth search can take hours.

The reason, and of course you know, because you actually read what’s on each frame of film. On a modern PC running a Word or PDF file, simply entering Ctrl-F allows for a search function and jumping through a few highlighted keywords. With a manual process like microfilm, you are the Ctrl-F key, because your machine can’t do it for you.

Of course, certain things can help you cut down the manual search time, such as a table of contents, or if you have a general idea of where in the film to look. But luck or experience is a requirement there, and on average, you’re still probably going to spend at least 5 or 10 minutes on a records lookup, even if you’re good and lucky.

Why Digitizing Your Microfilm Collection Saves Time – And Pays for Itself in the Long Run

It may look like we spent the past several paragraphs discussing how inefficient it is to manually look up records on microfilm, but what we really want to show you is how much time it saves to do the process digitally.

You can conduct a search on microfilm rolls just like you can with a PDF – you just need to convert the microfilm into a digital microfilm ribbon first. Then run a simple optical character recognition program to make it searchable. Besides the obvious practical benefits, like preservation, backing up the records, and protecting your collection from “Vinegar Syndrome” rot, you’ll be able to save a lot of time by getting an assist from your computer on every search you do.

Digitizing an entire roll of microfilm to a digital file format can take as little as one minute on today’s fastest high-speed conversion unit. While scanning at a high rate is beneficial to your conversion project, guaranteeing that every file was digitized is critical to record retention requirements. Combined with software designed for batch audit processing, the daunting task of combing through thousands of files is simplified with a ribbon auditor. Users can see an entire scan and quickly check for complete capture, in addition to applying universal image enhancements to the ribbon or a selected group of frames. The key to completing your conversion project in one piece and on time is not only fast scanning but also fast auditing capabilities.

High-speed microfilm conversion scanners will steer your department towards maximum operational efficiency by streamlining the record retrieval process. By instituting an on-demand process your staff can capture and convert entire rolls of microfilm as records are requested without making drastic changes to your existing business process. Any time there is a records request, simply capture the whole roll instead, find what you’re looking for using a fast search, and keep the digital copy forever – all in about the same amount of time it would have taken you to find the information manually.

It’s time to stop manually retrieving microfilm records. Step into the digital age by converting those records to digital microfilm ribbons and find the documents practically instantly. Let the computer do what it is good at and be the Ctrl-F command.

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