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Digital Imaging and Preservation Microfilm: the Future of the Hybrid Approach for the Preservation of Brittle Books


The following report, Digital Imaging and Preservation Microfilm: the Future of the Hybrid Approach for the Preservation of Brittle Books, is a working paper designed to disseminate important information about best practices in the hybrid approach and to stimulate further discussion and research on the part of various stakeholders in this preservation strategy. In the decade since the Federal government first funded a national brittle books program, over 750,000 titles have been filmed under the auspices of the National Endowment for the Humanities. Stimulated by this support and convinced of the importance of saving imperiled information, libraries across the country and, indeed, the globe, have joined in this effort to reformat brittle books and serials onto preservation microfilm. During this time, access to those books was expanded greatly by the registration of film masters in such databases as NROMM and EROMM, and the availability of those films through interlibrary loan arrangements.

Today, “access” is almost synonymous with digital technology. Digital reformatting, in its infancy at the beginning of this decade, has matured rapidly into the access medium of choice among users. Few are the researchers who speak of using digital surrogates with the same chagrin with which they speak of using microfilm. However, the problems of preserving digital files over time are formidable, and no responsible custodian would assert that digitization is preferable to microfilming as a preservation medium. The vision of the hybrid approach to preservation and access is to enable libraries to leverage the investment they have already made in preservation microfilming by making them available digitally, as well as facilitating the creation of analog film copies of digital files for preservation purposes.

The time has come to advance best practices for this approach. With the encouragement and aid of the Research Libraries Group and the National Endowment for the Humanities, CLIR has begun this process by convening the three leading authorities on the subject, Stephen Chapman, Paul Conway, and Anne Kenney, to set forth the results of the work they have done to date at Cornell and Yale Universities. We also asked them to specify what additional work remains to be done in order to make hybrid conversion a reliable and cost-effective strategy that could be used by research libraries across the country. We are grateful to these three authors for their energy and commitment to this important work, as well as to our partners in this endeavor, RLG and NEH.

This paper is intended to stimulate debate among the preservation, technology, and vendor communities. We anticipate that the responses the paper receives will begin to shape answers to the outstanding issues. This paper is mounted in both MS Word format and as a PDF file. We welcome thoughtful responses to the issues raised by the authors, and ask that you send your comments by mail to CLIR at 1755 Massachusetts Ave NW, Suite 500, Washington, D. C. 20036. A final report will appear after the authors have had the chance to review the comments and consult further with those in the best positions to answer the outstanding questions through a series of focused meetings held in the near future.


Stephen Chapman is Preservation Librarian for Digital Initiatives at Harvard University. Paul Conway is Head of the Preservation Department at Yale University. Anne Kenney is Associate Director of the Department of Preservation & Conservation at Cornell University.

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