Microrography in Archives

Brief History

In 1800's an English photographer John Benjamin Dancer experimented and developed the process of microphotography, which today is known as micrographic process to record the content of a document on films in greatly reduced size.

In 1818's a Frenchman Rene Dagron, realized the possibilities of this new technique for record keeping and is credited with being first to use micrographic process on commercial scale.

The main cause of paper explosion is the increasing dependence of business, research and education on accurate, complete and detailed information. Information and data need to be compiled, evaluated, retrieved and disseminated for effective use.

Besides acute storage space, records are liable to damage due to natural deterioration of paper, attack by pest, rodents, water, fire and other multiple causes. Valuable records can be lost forever if NO DUPLICATES ARE RETAINED.

Thousands of years ago, people recognized the necessity of keeping records of their daily activities. What began simply as carving or painting graphic figures on the walls of caves, evolved over the centuries into more complex forms of languages and written alphabets were developed, paper was invented and the art of writing and record keeping became defined. As more and more people began to preserve more and more records on paper, complex storage methods were devised to house these records. But they took up more and more room, and finally people began to run out of space. Something needed to be done. In the 1800's an English photographer, John Benjamin Dancer, experimented with and developed the process of microphotography, which today is known as "Micrography"-the use of a photographic process to record documents on film in greatly reduced sizes. Also, in the 1880's a Frenchman, René Dagron, realized the possibilities of this new process for record keeping and is credited with being the first to use micrographics on a commercial scale.

There is really no mystery to micrography. It is nothing more than automated photography-and nothing is as accurate and faithful to detail as photography. Microfilming is the technique of miniaturizing paper- of all kinds of paper, in all sizes shapes-into tiny frames of photographic film. Handling costs per item are reduced to a fraction of present costs of handling paper records. Instead of entire rooms, files fill only a few cabinets, instead of wasting precious time, locating elusive documents, microfilm puts them within reach in few seconds, in the original size or even larger. Microfilm greatly reduces the space, provides for the duplication and distribution of documents and provides easy access to materials. Moreover microfilm alleviates the filing and out-of-file problems and protects the physical integrity of files by providing back-up and archival copies.

The rapid advances in micrographic technology during the last decade have made microform systems more responsive to user demands with the result that greater benefits are now provided to the user than are offered by the original paper system. The trend today is towards active microform systems rather than the archival system. Active systems are those in which the information recorded on film is used during the normal course of business in place of the original paper. In contrast, and archival system is one in which information is recorded for safe preservation in the event the original information is liable to be destroyed, deteriorated due to many relevant causes. In an archival system, the filmed copies are not expected to be used in the normal course of business. In the U.P.Archives, Lucknow, the in-house facility is available for the sole purpose of safety microfilming, as the main objective of Archives is to preserve precious records of immense historical, archival and national importance for a longer of period of time.

Micrographics -A Challenge To The Paper System

Advantages of microfilm systems over existing paper system are:


Space saving-records on microforms need as little as 2% of space occupied by the records on paper


Lower operating costs-less time is involved in sorting, filing and refiling than paper records.


Speed and convenience-a required record could be retrieved within a few seconds from even a million records using systems such as computer-assisted retrieval system.


Security-keeping a duplicate microform at a different place reduces considerably the possible destruction or loss of vital information.


Improved productivity-queries can be handled accurately and more quickly than by searching paper files.


Fixed file continuity-records filmed on microform are infixed sequence, which guards against misfiling, mislaying, alteration or loss.


Ease of production of copies required-if required paper copies of the original document could be produced in seconds from the microform.


Data integrity-data integrity is ensured as against papers or electronic media.


Easy updating-particularly in the jacket system.


Savings in mailing costs.


The most important aspect in today's rapidly growing computer technology, the micrographic technology is fully compatible with the computers as well as emerging future platforms.


And from the archival point of view, microform has a longer preservation period.

Micrographic Hardware

Both the hardware and software of micrographics are constantly undergoing ever-increasing degree of sophistication to meet adequately the diverse requirements of the rapidly growing number of users and the wide spectrum of the applications in various fields. The basic equipments which are required to establish a comprehensive micrographic unit.


Microfilming camera


Film processor


Film duplicator


Film examiner




Reader cum printer

Micrographic Software

The internationally accepted standard microforms are:


Roll film: 35 mm, 16 mm, 70 mm and 105 mm


Microfiche of size 105 mm x 148 mm


Aperture card


Jacket: 35 mm, 16 mm


Micro-opaque (now obsolete medium)


Ultra fiche: this contains images reduced more than 90xthus permitting thousands of images per fiche.

Microfilm has two basic formats, the roll film, generally on 35 mm or 16 mm width, or the flat sheet film, known as microfiche, which, according to national and international standards, is of 105 mm by 148 mm in size. Roll film is suitable for long runs of inactive material such as old documents, periodical collections, manuscripts, while the unitized form which holds related material on the same sheet is suitable for applications where more frequent reference is required. Roll film in 35 mm width is still the preferred size in libraries, archives, research institutes, because it permits the use of relatively low reductions that produce more legible micro-images from newspapers, old manuscripts, and other difficult to copy materials. However 16 mm width is also getting popularity in bank, insurance companies, hospitals and school-college level. Microfiche usually has a capacity to hold from about 60 to over 400 images per sheet depending upon the reduction ratio used. A variant of the microfiche the ultra fiche produced at extremely high reductions and containing upwards of 3,000 images. Other flat forms of microform such as the aperture cards and the jacketed microfilm have not found extensive use in archives, libraries etc; but they are also useful for updating information in small collections.

Standards for Microfilm

The purpose of establishing standards for exposed and processed microfilm is to determine whether the completed microfilm is an adequate substitute for the records filmed and meets the recommended requirements of quality control for which standards have been set by organizations such as International Standards Organization, American National Standards Institute (ANSI), Association for Information and Image Management (AIIM) and of course Indian Standards Institute.

Storage And Preservation of Microfilms

Microfilms processed according to the specifications defined by standards organizations will last longer and their life expectancy depends upon the following factors:


The nature of film base and emulsion.


The method of procession and


Storage conditions.

If the film used has inherent stability and processing is done as per the manufacturer's recommendations, proper storage will ensure long life to the microfilm.

Storage conditions:

Photographic film and paper are a more delicate medium than paper. Under unfavorable environmental conditions of storage they are much more susceptible to deterioration than paper. High relative humidity (above 60%)encourages the growth of mould, while low humidity (below 30%) can cause film brittleness, curling and static charge. Heat also accelerates film shrinkage and may produce physical distortion. It is, therefore, essential that photographic records intended to be preserved for a considerable length of time are stored under proper environmental conditions. For this an efficient air-conditioning system working round the clock is a must. A temperature of 14 - 20 c and relative humidity of 35 - 5% provides an ideal storage environment. Since obtaining such lower limits of temperature in tropical climate increases considerably by the cost of operation of a central air-conditioning plant, a temperature of 20-22c and relative humidity of 45-50% provides a workable solution.

Studies on image permanence indicate that even if sodium thiosulphate and silver slats might be removed completely from the image it would still be subject to deterioration when attacked by external gases like ammonia, hydrogen peroxide, and hydrogen sulphide or sulphur dioxide. Film should therefore, be provided with adequate leaders to give protection to the image portion of film roll from external contamination. This leader appears to react with the major portion of entering gases reducing chances of attack on subsequent image bearing film. In addition, the air of the storage area should be filtered to remove dust and should be given an alkaline wash to make it free of acidic gases and circulated under slight positive pressure to prevent pockets of stagnant air. Proper air ventilation is absolutely necessary, and exhaust fans should be installed to expel out the stagnant air for the safety of the personnel working in the micrographic sections and storage area. Adequate precautions against fire damage should be taken -smoke detectors and alarm systems may be installed with appropriate type of fire-extingquisher, in addition, portable fire extinguishers should remain available at the time of need. Sufficient insulation should be provided in the area to permit satisfactory temperature control in all seasons of the year and to prevent moisture condensation from forming on the walls. STORAGE FACILITIES THEREFORE, SHOULD CONSIDER TEMPERATURE, HUMIDITY, AIR PURIFICATION, AIR-CONDITIONING, WATER AND FIRE PROTECTION.

For reasons of safekeeping, the negatives, positives and the duplicates should be kept separately. The master negatives should be stored away from the original records, preferably in another locations.

Microfilm storage equipments

Reels: The reels should be made of non-corrosive materials such as non-ferrous metal or stable plastics that are free of peroxides. The use of rubber bands around microfilm reels should be avoided as it contains residual sulphur, harmful for film and the use of adhesive tape splices, bleached paper, or printed paper such as newspaper around microfilm reels also has adverse effects and should be avoided.

Reel containers and cartons: The most acceptable containers for storing negative microfilms are corrosion-resistant metal cans, preferably made of anodized aluminum or of stabilized plastic. Acid free cardboard containers may be used for storage of negative films. To ensure preservation, films should be stored in fire proof and dust proof cabinets preferably made of steel, non-corrosive, and having non-combustible paints.


Keeping the film free of finger marks, dust, scratches and abrasion is of utmost importance. Uric acid in the natural body oils of the skin may eventually etch the surface of the film, may encourage growth of bacteria on the surface of the films. Continuous handling and repeated passages through printer, readers and projectors produce both fine surface scratches and sometimes-deeper penetrating scratches. The gelatin emulsion is liable to be damaged by finger marks, heat, moisture, scratches, pressures and chemicals. Thus once damaged, the master negative in particular can never be reproduced.


Always wear white-cotton, lint free gloves when handling films of any kind.


Always hold film by its edges.


Never wind film on the reel too tightly nor grab or hold the end of the film and pull it to tighten it on the reel. Wind film on the reel only as tight as the camera, viewer or other rewind mechanism permits.


Before using viewers, microscopes, densitometers, etc.always clean all parts that will come in contact with the films, and keep them clean during use. DUST IS A MAJOR ENEMY OF THE FILMS.




Chemicals, chemical fume should be kept away from film storage area.


Only photographic quality chemicals, cleaners should be used for the films.


Films should be wound on plastic reels.