Monday, June 26, 2017

No more FHL microfilm? Myrt's take

The LDS Church and subsequently FamilySearch sent out notices regarding the digitization efforts at FamilySearch and the decision to cease distribution of microfilm effective 1 September 2017. Naturally, this is a topic ripe for discussion during today's Mondays with Myrt genealogy hangout beginning at 28 minutes 6 seconds into the broadcast embedded below.

I'm thankful the folks at are being fiscally responsible with the funds I donate as a member of the LDS Church. Reproducing microfilm on blank stock costing $85 a pop, isn't a viable business model to then rent the microfilm to local Family History Centers for a mere $7.50 including postage both ways.

I believe the decision to wait before discontinuing microfilm distribution was a financial sacrifice on the part of FamilySearch. The effort was made to insure the majority of the records folks normally order on microfilm were made available in digital format before ceasing the 80 year old microfilm lending program. What remains to be digitized are those obscure microfilm rarely ordered.

It will take only three years to digitize the balance of the microfilm collection.

I understand it is the contract negotiations that takes the real time before the remaining microfilm can be digitized. Some have thought money is needed to digitize, but it isn't about money. It's about creating the contracts to permit digitization of the microfilm. The original document collections are housed in distant government or church archives. Each archive must be contacted to develop a new contract.

Each of those government or church archives administrators must meet with their governing boards to determine *if* the records should be digitized. During the hangout, Valerie Lisk writes of her research experience "Mississippi will not allow their films to be digitized."

*Whether* the digital images should reside at or on the archive's website is another concern. If the archives decides to host the images, contracts must be let out to order servers, hire an IT person, and develop an interface. Decisions must be made about indexing. Each archive must decide if images can be viewed from any computer with internet access or if they are to be restricted to viewing only in Salt Lake City at the Family History Library, or possibly expanded to include viewing at the 4,000+ Family History Centers throughout the world.

Oh, those contract to-do lists go on and on. 

Old contracts didn't cover digitization. In fact, most microfilming contracts were created before we had the internet and before digitization was invented. I have it on good authority that to this day, those new digitization contracts are unique, with myriad choices facing each distant archive.

We can trust FamilySearch to keep digital images in the most up-to-date format, so newer machines can read the files. "Microfilm deteriorates but digital images do not." says John Laws, our man 'not in Edinburgh, Scotland.' 

This final thought comes from Bill West who writes "I suspect some people were upset when people switched from clay tablets to papyrus rolls."

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