Yes, We Still Need Microfilm!

Preserving Our History for Future Generations


I’m have often been presented with a question from younger generations, whether professionally or in my personal life when people ask me where I work:

People really still use microfilm?

Or if the topic comes up with even younger generations, they have hardly heard of this timeless storage format.

The answer: Yes.

From my experience, I have learned that genealogists and historians treasure microfilm and understand its importance. The majority of librarians, too. They know the best way to preserve a newspaper’s content for future generations is by microfilming those newspapers right now.

While it may seem like an aging technology by today’s standards, microfilm is the best way to save that content for the long haul. When stored under the proper conditions microfilm will survive unscathed for at least 500 years!

Proper microfilm storage conditions include:

  • never higher than 55 degrees fahrenheit
  • never higher than 40% humidity
  • in a proper metal or plastic storage container
  • not accessed frequently

This is all assuming that the film was created properly in the first place, by a certified lab working under proper conditions.

No matter the current technology, microfilm from any era can be scanned and the digital files converted to whatever the current format may be. Right now, we mostly use PDF and TIF to view newspapers digitally but who knows what that will be 20 years from now. Good thing we will still have microfilm around to serve as our home base for whatever format we need then.

The best practice is to have newspapers microfilmed as soon as possible after publication. This ensures the paper will still be in good condition with no fading, tears, folds or other imperfections. The more the paper gets used, the worse the condition and therefore, the worse the film. Also, it’s easier to find complete sets of newspapers while they’re current, rather than many years down the line.