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While reading the remarkable ProQuest comic book, Eugene B. Power and the Wild Beginnings of UMI, I recall a conversation held only months earlier. One co-worker's concern comes back to me because he raised the same question as superhero Eugene Power. The source of the problem has evolved since Power innovated a solution to save and store documents with microfilm, but the question remains today:

“How will we preserve all of this for the future?”

The Wild Beginnings of UMI comic was created to commemorate the 75th anniversary of microfilm and the founding of University Microfilms Inc. (now ProQuest) by Eugene Power. While we are celebrating the milestone of this innovation at all of our ProQuest offices, timely conversations are happening in the industry that involve the current relevance of microfilm.

Libraries are fighting budget constraints and economic conditions are also causing some institutions to rely on others to be responsible for filming and archiving information.  In this digital era, the need for microfilming is being questioned and the preservation of works is yet again under threat.

Considering that we have been told that digitization has replaced microfilm as the more current and valuable media, the importance to continue microfilming may not appear obvious at first glance. The need to support this shift in the information industry and focus on digitizing content is reflected in recent Bowker Market Research reports that the demand for ebooks is rising. This further confirms what we already know and fuels the debate of the value in microfilm.

As we witness CDs and DVDs fast becoming extinct, and upgrades made available for mobile devices nearly every six months, the question of whether we can rely on digitization to be an archive solution makes us wonder how we can utilize these advances in technology to preserve information for the future.

“Do we gain anything by continuing to film documents? Do we gain anything by digitizing documents from film?” asks Stanley Bowling, Content Operations Supervisor of the ProQuest business unit that continues to microfilm and digitize documents. He answers these questions with a resounding “Yes!” Stanley passionately believes in saving history to microfilm because it offers a view of history from its original source. Not only does microfilm offer the undeniable benefit of extreme longevity of over 500 years, it also continues to be cost effective and easy to reproduce.

Digitization does offer excellent options for saving space and reformatting records but runs the risk of software, hardware and file format obsolescence. Digitizing documents from film is the best of both worlds by offering a solution to both microfilm's accessibility constraints and the unknown lifespan of digitization.

At ProQuest, Eugene Power’s legacy lives on 75 years later in our commitment to both saving history and innovating information solutions. I hope that it puts librarians, researchers and scholars at ease to know that the sentiment to preserve knowledge no matter what, is still shared today by our employees.

There is a little superpower in all of us fighting the good fight to protect the world’s most precious printed works.

- Tara Shepard, ProQuest Public Relations 

25 Jul 2013 | Posted by Shannon Janeczek

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