Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Future of Family History Center Microfilm

Microfilm readers and cabinets at the Riverton FamilySearch Center. Photograph by the Ancestry Insider.FamilySearch Family History Center staff are increasingly having hard times keeping their microfilm readers operational. Parts are becoming hard to obtain. On a Yahoo discussion group, one staff member reported using O rings from a local machine shop to replace belts. Another staffer reported being quite concerned last October when FamilySearch support indicated that “Film ordering will be going away eventually and now is a great time to start removing unneeded readers.” This startled her because she understood it would be decades before all the microfilms that could be digitized would be posted on FamilySearch. Another staffer reported hearing at RootsTech that only 7% of the records had been digitized. Another reported that some microfilm would never be digitized because of “copyright.” (It’s actually not a copyright issue, but other legal impediments.)

Steve Fox, manager of cataloging and metadata services at FamilySearch International, stepped in to clarify the situation. Steve said the 7% number is incorrect. You’ll recall my report from RootsTech that FamilySearch executives said 50% of the vault has been scanned.

Steve said, “The more critical issue is that raw microfilm used for making copies for distribution is no longer available at an affordable cost. In fact, it will soon be unavailable at any cost.” He said, “I can’t give an exact time frame, but microfilm circulation will go away in the near future, regardless.”

He acknowledged the “copyright” issues and said, “Creative solutions to these issues are in review.”

Steve went on to disclose that some films have been digitized that are not available in historical record collections. These contain 100s of millions of images and are accessible only through the FamilySearch catalog. Including the images available through historical record collections, there are nearly 2 billion images accessible through the catalog. To access images through the catalog, look up a film as you usually would. Then look for a camera icon in the column to the right of the film number. Click the camera icon to access the images. “Images viewed this way are not structured like the browse collections, but mimic the microfilm roll experience,” Steve said. “If something is on Item 3, you need to scroll down through the thumbnails looking for Item 3, like cranking through a roll of film.”

Images accessed through the catalog are subject to the same conditions as those in historical record collections. Some require that you login. Some will require that you be at a FamilySearch family history center, or even the Salt Lake library.

11 comments:

  1. For a short time, Italy, Avellino, Sant'Angelo dei Lombardi historic collection digital films were available online at the Family History Center. Then they were revoked. Will they be available again?

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    1. Italian civil registration records are subject to a publishing agreement with the Italian Government. The Tribunale records will end up on FamilySearch (and in fact 1866-1910 for Sant'Angelo dei Lombardi already is). The Archivio di Stato records will end up on Antenati (see: http://antenati.san.beniculturali.it/). Hopefully sometime in the next year or so.

      What town are you researching?

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  2. There are new microfilm scanners that work with computers. This is a viable option for obtaining working readers and preserving microfilm before it decays:

    http://www.e-imagedata.com/

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  3. Is there any chance the FHL would sell the microfilm that are digitized and no longer used on the microfilm readers?

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  4. Can you provide a bit more detail on how to access the 100's of millions of images you've noted are accessible through the FamilySearch catalog?

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  5. We began seeing parts shortages at our local FHC a decade ago. Not only the o-ring belts that became stiff with age but the scratchy/broken glass guide plates. The lack of volunteers to maintain and repair the equipment took a toll over time. Probably about 1/3 of the microfilm readers are minimally functional. The Minolta microfilm copier lasted almost 20 years but eventually couldn't be repaired and was removed from service five years ago. It was never replaced although the local genealogy club offered to buy a digital replacement .

    I also fear that there will a time that the remaining un-digitized microfilm cannot be read much like my 5-1/4 floppy disks. Just kidding -- converted them all to DVDs years ago and put copies in the bank and on the cloud.

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  6. We couldn't find anyone to give our old readers to and have taken some to a recycle project or the dump. Still have several to get rid of. Huron Shores Genealogical Society of Oscoda, MI. Huronshoresgs@yahoo.com.

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  7. When I've tried accessing the digitized images using the camera icon, I often get a pop up that denies access. Do you know if they use the same message for all instances where you can't get in, or are there different ones for "signed in," "local history center," or "SLC only"?

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    1. Some images are only available to view at a local FHC, using their computers. Some are only available at the FHL in Salt Lake. Some are available only to members of the LDS Church on their home computers. The LDS church does NOT determine the rules of who sees what images. It is the custodian of the original records who determines who can see them.

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    2. I think the access denied messages could be more informative. They should explain how that particular content can be successfully accessed.

      Even better, they would also include contact information for the rights holders. There needs to be more political pressure to make non-commercial information freely available and adopt Creative Commons based licenses.

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  8. My local FHC has already gotten rid of all microfilm readers. Of course they don't mention it on their web site so when I ordered some films I then had no way to use them.

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