Wednesday, April 27, 2011

What's in a Microform?

A lot, actually. Think of microforms as the original eReaders— an innovative way to pack a large amount of information into a small physical format, accessible almost everywhere.

A microform is a microphotographic reproduction of a document. You’re probably more familiar with the terms used to describe their more frequently used forms, microfilm and microfiche. Microfilm is a film strip of microphotographic images. They come in two sizes, 16mm and 35mm.

35mm film is usually used for larger documents, such as newspapers.

Microfiche is a plastic card with strips of microformed images, usually in the 16 mm size.

According to Heritage Microfilm, Microforms have been around since 1839, though they were considered a novelty until the early 1920s, when they were used to create permanent copies of bank records. During the Franco-Prussian war, carrier pigeons were used to carry microfilmed messages across enemy lines). During WWII, microfilm was used to create V-Mail. Letters going overseas were censored and microfilmed and a hard copy was printed out on paper when the film arrived at its destination. Microfilm was also used extensively during the post-war period, as nations sought a way to record paper documents as a way of backing up their heritage and archival collections.

Microforms continue to be an important part of library collections because of their inherent stability. Microforms are an analog technology— the only things required to read a microform are light and magnification. Unlike digital technologies, which have the potential to become inaccessible as the technology becomes outdated, information recorded on microforms will always be accessible. Microforms allow valuable information to be preserved when their original format is unable to to be preserved, or maintaining the information in its original format would be impractical, such as newspapers.

Perhaps more importantly, microfilmed records and documents are admissible as evidence in most courts. After some early resistance, courts long ago began accepting microform copies as documentary evidence – a status that many electronic records have not yet received, and many states have statutes, providing for the use of microfilmed records as original documents.

For further reading on this topic, check out Minnich v. First Nat. Bank of Atlanta, 264 S.E.2d 287 (Ga.App. 1979) (holding that copies from microfilms constitute admissible evidence) or the Gallagher Law Library’s copy of Admissibility in Evidence of Microform Records, located at KF 8947.Z95 N5.

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