International Congress on Archives 2004 pres 180 METCALFE C USA GSU 01 E Page 2
International Congress on Archives
The Genealogical Society of Utah
Managing Microfilm Collections in the Age of Digital Imaging
The Genealogical Society of Utah
A Brief History
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints established the Genealogical Society of Utah in 1894. The early
Articles of Association listed among other things the benevolent goal of establishing and maintaining a
genealogical library for the benefit of the society members and others. An educational goal was envisioned of
sharing information that related to genealogical matters. The original library contained 3 printed volumes. From
these humble beginnings the collection of the Genealogical Society of Utah has grown to one of the largest
genealogical collections in the world with over 300,000 titles in its collection.
In 1938 the GSU began the newly commercialized process of microfilming original records that contained
genealogical information. As an early pioneer of microfilm, the GSU helped establish this technology as a
means of disseminating genealogical information to the masses. Today the GSU has over 2,300,000 rolls of
microfilm and 740,000 microfiche in its collection. Microfilming is currently being conducted in over 200
The extensive collection of microfilm includes records from 110 countries in the world. These microfilm
collections include records of genealogical significance from government, religious and private collections.
Several years ago the GSU began developing digital imaging systems to image and disseminate genealogical
information. The GSU is actively converting many of its microfilm rolls to digital images. Today the GSU is
pursuing digital imaging projects around the world. The GSU has over 15 active digital projects and many more
are planned for the remainder of this year and the future. By 2006 the GSU should have over 80 digital cameras
imaging documents around the world.
Microfilm vs. Digital Images for End Users
As digital imaging matures, many archivists will be faced with the dilemma of how to address the coming
digital age. Decisions must be made whether to maintain a proven microfilm technology that is accepted by the
archival community or to embrace a new imaging technology that appears to be inevitable but which has no
proven preservation methodology. Let's take a few minutes to examine the advantages of microfilm technology
vs. digital technology.
Because microfilm is an actual photograph of the original record, camera capture is relatively straightforward
and low-tech. This type of analog capture allows for easy storage and retrieval. Simple magnification of the
human-viewable microfilm image is all that is necessary to retrieve the original content. No sophisticated
equipment is necessary to view the microfilm. Silver-based microfilm, properly exposed, developed and stored
is a long-term preservation medium. Life expectancies of 500 years are generally accepted as feasible. Most
archivists accept microfilm as an excellent medium for preservation. It provides a relatively inexpensive means
of preserving precious documents.
Inherent with any technology are disadvantages when compared to other technologies. Microfilm has several
drawbacks. The analog nature of microfilm makes indexing of individual frames difficult. Even if the microfilm
is marked so that each image is identified, the correct roll or fiche usually must be retrieved by hand and loaded
onto a machine for viewing. It becomes difficult to coordinate the index search with the retrieval of the
individual image without requiring manual searches of rolls and fiche.
Microfilm can only be searched by one individual, on one machine, at one time. High demand microfilm must
either be duplicated so that several copies exist or only one person will be able to use the microfilmed
documents at a time. Multiple copies of microfilm require additional storage space.