Microphotography in Archives -4

Advantages and Disadvantages of Microphotography

Advantages of Microphotography:

    Since the first practical microfilm camera was developed in 1928 microfilm has become more and more versatile. The most common uses by archives are as follows:

  • For Referencing: The purpose is to provide the researcher with exact copies of documents at a cost far less than the cost of transcribing, typing, or photo-stating the originals. In its simplest form, reference microfilming is a substitute for note-taking and the scholar or requesting institution receives a negative microfilm copy. [1]
  • Publication: Facsimile copies of series of records can be published in entirety on microfilm at far less cost, more rapidly, and with less editorial labour than is needed for letterpress publications. [2]
  • Accessibility: Accessing records becomes much easier and hassle-free.
  • Security: Security filming is done to provide insurance against the loss of valuable information in the records in the event that the records themselves should be destroyed by fire, flood, war, or any another calamity. [3]
  • Preservation: Preservation filming is done for two reasons: (1) to protect records against possible deterioration from use, that is to say, against wear and tear, and (2) to preserve the informational content of records against deterioration and eventual loss. For example, records produced on poor materials, such as highly acid wood-pulp papers or non-permanent quick-copies, or records that are faded, brittle, charred, or water soaked can be transferred onto microfilm. This can be done at a fraction of the cost required to laminate them.
  • Space Saving: A lot of space is saved due to microphotography and enables archives to store more records than earlier.
  • Administrative or Facilitative Uses: Some series of records, for example, may be more easily used and the costs of reference service reduced by, making microfilm copies of indexes, lists, or other finding aids to records when the original. finding aids are required in the agency of origin, in another repository, or in two or more widely separated locations in a repository at the same time.

Disadvantages of Microphotography

    Despite its significant uses, microphotography should not be looked upon as the final answer for solving all problems an archive encounters. It has its advantages as well as disadvantages.

Some of the disadvantages are:

  • Maintaining and servicing microphotographs may be more expensive than servicing the originals;
  •  The microfilm copy may be inconvenient to use.
  •  It is not always possible to obtain perfectly legible or usable microfilm copy – 
    (a) when a document contains very fine writing, (b) when a document is exceptionally large, (c) when there is extremely poor light-reflecting contrast between the reading matter and the paper, as in the case of some yellowish or faded inks or discoloured, darkened, or coloured paper, and (d) when the interpretation of a document depends upon colour as a distinguishing element.
  • The intrinsic value of a document is lost in the film copy.
  •  It is not possible to compare two separate images on the same roll.
  •  Once records have been filmed it is not always feasible to incorporate additional material in the film.
  • Unless quality standards are carefully followed the microfilm produced may not serve its purpose.
  • The equipment is only handled by professionals and experts, which may not always be at the disposal of the archives. [4]


    Microphotography in Archival Management came about as a revolution. It enabled archives to store a lot more records than was earlier possible.

    It bought about a great change especially in the Science and Industrial fields as samples were now much easier to collect and store, and was also easy to use with the proper procedure and equipment.

     Microfilm offers advantages like long-term stability, less storage space, cost benefit, option to digitise. However, one of the major disadvantages of the microfilms is the difficulty of use. The emergence of new technologies in the 1990’s opened up the possibility of converting and storing data in digital form. British Library’s Electronic Beowulf Project is one of the earliest initiatives taken in this direction.

    Even with its disadvantages, Microphotography has emerged as a leading trend in the digitisation of records, across the world. Project Gutenberg (PG), founded by Michael Hart in 1971, is the oldest digitisation project.  It is a volunteer effort to digitise, archive, and distribute cultural works. The project is named after Johannes Gutenberg, the 15th-century German printer who propelled the movable-type printing press revolution. The mission of the project is “to encourage the creation and distribution of eBooks”.

    In India significant initiatives of digitisation are being taken up by the Government of India and other important institutions and major libraries. Digitisation programmes have been started. Digital libraries are being set up by important institution such as Indian Institute of Technologies at Delhi, Kharagpur, The Energy Research Institute, New Delhi, National Institute of Technology, Calicut (Nalanda- Network of automated Library and Archives), Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts (IGNCA), DRTC etc. In addition to this host websites and portals on different areas of research are being set up. Consortiums like Indian National Digital Library in Engineering Sciences and Technology (INDEST) are being formed.

    The potential benefits of digitisation are easy access and availability, ease of use, flexibility, enhanced capabilities for analysis and manipulation. There is predominance of efforts for digitising existing collection of books, manuscripts, photographs and other materials. However, the creation and subsequent maintenance of electronic resources requires funding, skill, and ongoing commitment. [5]

    However, Microphotography is an evolving trend. Scholars have still addressed this as being in its developmental stage, with a lot more capability in the future.



  • Dr. Sundararaj, M, A Manual of Archival Systems and The World of Archives, Chennai: Siva Publications, 1999.
  • Gunther, Alfred, Microphotography in the Library, Paris: United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), 1962.
  • Leisinger, Albert H., Jr, Microphotography for Archives, Washington D.C: International Council on Archives, 1968.
  • < http://egyankosh.ac.in/bitstream/123456789/11180/1/Unit-15.pdf > | Date of Accession – 1st December, 2018, 10: 42 pm.

[1] Albert H. Leisinger Jr; Op. cit; p. 7.

[2] Ibid; p. 7.

[3] Albert H. Leisinger Jr; Op. cit; p. 7.

[4] Albert H. Leisinger Jr; Op. cit; p. 10.

[5] < http://egyankosh.ac.in/bitstream/123456789/11180/1/Unit-15.pdf >