Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Making Microfilm

Yesterday was a meeting of the Technology Subcommittee of the Registers of Deeds Association.  One of many items discussed was microfilm and the wisdom of continuing to create it.  Professional archivists are increasingly of the opinion that electronic images are stable and reliable enough to serve as the sole source of information storage and so the need for microfilm as a backup is a matter of some dispute. 

Current state law mandates the creation of microfilm so no one will be stopping its production unilaterally.  Still, it's prudent to assess our archival and backup needs from time to time and seek statutory amendments where applicable.

My own opinion is that we should continue making microfilm.  While I have much confidence in electronic images and am convinced that past problems of forward compatibility of storage mediums and formats are a past problem, I am still concerned that some nefarious virus could pose a threat to electronic images.  It's an extremely remote threat but the risk of harm that would result - a complete loss of all land ownership records - would be catastrophic.

While I do advocate the continued creation of microfilm, it might be done in a more efficient manner.  Rather than each registry have an expensive piece of equipment needed to shoot the film, why not centralize that process with the Secretary of State's office?  When we "shoot" microfilm in-house today, we do so from the scanned image of the document, not from the original document.  A duplicate copy of all of those images is already stored with the Secretary's office so there would be no additional infrastructure needs.  It would also be helpful if the microfilm shot in this manner could also be stored centrally at someplace like the State Archives rather than at commercial disaster recovery sites as we do now, a service that might be done more efficiently within state government.

The only decision made yesterday was to continue pursuing the centralized creation and storage of microfilm of recorded documents.  Ceasing the creation of microfilm might be a wise choice at some point in the future but we are not at that point yet.   

1 comment:

Jeff Welch said...

A near-complete loss of land records is not without precedent in Massachusetts. In 1827, the Barnstable County courthouse burned down, destroying 142 years of land records with it. Only one book was saved. The land records had to be reconstructed from deeds held by attorneys and property owners.

That fire is one of the reasons that Barnstable has such a high percentage of Registered Land. Even to this day, there are still unregistered land titles affected by the fire. I had one last year.