PHS Goes Digital | Presbyterian Historical Society

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PHS Goes Digital

April 4, 2014

On April 1st, we updated our 60-year old microfilming program and officially went digital. Microfilm used to be the only way to permanently preserve records, but technological advances have made digital preservation a good alternative and far superior in its usability, cost, and space saving benefits. Furthermore, microfilm can still be used in conjunction with a digital preservation program by writing digital files to film.

While microfilm only requires storage space with little intervention other than climate control, managing digital files is an ongoing process. The Library of Congress defines digital preservation as “the active management of digital content over time to ensure ongoing access.” Digital preservation requires many ongoing actions, such as routine migration (or transfer) of files, replication of files in many places, and the addition of metadata (or descriptive information).

The Society’s digital preservation program began in 2012 when we hired Digital Archivist Elise Warshavsky. After Elise helped us establish the technological infrastructure that would allow us to preserve digital objects, we purchased a CopiBook HD planetary scanner in January to replace our aging Kodak Recordak microfilming camera.

Reformatting Technician Stephanie Becker uses the CopiBook HD planetary scanner.
So, why are images produced by a planetary scanner so superior to microfilmed images? Here’s a side-by-side comparison of unedited images produced by the CopiBook scanner (left) and one produced by the Kodak microfilm camera (right):

The CopiBook allows us to scan in 24-bit color at resolutions up to 600 by 600 pixels. Conversely, preservation-quality microfilm is always captured in grayscale. While microfilm produces good text resolution, it is unable to capture a broad range of gray tones, which is required to reproduce photographs and detailed illustrations. But scanners are excellent at capturing both images and text, making high-quality digital surrogates the closest thing to handling original materials. Having great surrogates available means fragile originals can be protected from damage and agents of deterioration.

Our new planetary scanner allows us to offer a broader range of digitization services. Patrons can now request reproduction of scrapbooks and photo albums, which we previously were unable to microfilm. You can find all of our digitization rates on our website. PC(USA) congregations and mid councils still receive a discount to digitize their records, and PHS still offers Heritage Preservation Grants that help small, financially needy congregations preserve their records in digital form.