10 Ways to Maintain Your Microfilm Records

  • October 21, 2016
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The cost efficiency of microfilm makes it the record format of choice for many government agencies. Most microfilm made after the mid 80s is polyester-based and therefore, not susceptible to acetate degradation, also called vinegar syndrome . However older, cellulose acetate-based microfilm naturally degrades over time.  For this reason, polyester-based film is now the recommended format for microfilm preservation.

Although the decaying process can be slowed, all acetate-based microfilm records will eventually succumb to vinegar syndrome. Acetate-based microfilm records that have reached advanced stages of vinegar syndrome may be cloudy, brittle and even curled. These effects cannot be reversed.

Fortunately, you can dramatically decelerate degradation and prevent damage by following these steps:

  1. Pack your microfilm tightly to prevent it from oxidizing.
  2. Store your microfilm in a temperature-controlled environment. Warm conditions exacerbate harmful chemical reactions. This might be difficult to achieve in a hot climate, but a trusted partner can help. Ideally, temperature should not exceed 21°C.
  3. Control excess moisture. As with warm temperatures, humidity accelerates the decaying process. We recommend humidity lower than 50% as well as refrigerant-based dehumidification systems for all film types, not just acetate-based. Desiccants like silica gel and activated charcoal can be placed in the storage unit to absorb excess moisture and acid, but they may also cause dust particles that can scratch the surface of your microfilm records. If you do use desiccants, be sure to check them regularly and replace as necessary.
  4. Store your records in a dark place. Light can fade records and increase the temperature of the storage room. An ideal storage room has no windows or has windows covered by shades. Turn off lights when the room is not in use.
  5. Keep your storage facility as clean as possible. Vacuuming regularly reduces dust particles that can cause scratches.
  6. Do not paint rooms in which records are stored. Paint fumes can damage film. Before painting, remove microfilm records and allow the paint to dry for three months before returning them. 
  7. Do not store your microfilm records long-term in wooden cabinets. Once again, particles can damage the surface.
  8. Handle with care. Use gloves to prevent leaving oily residue and fingerprints on records. Staff should be educated of proper handling to ensure the least amount of damage to records.
  9. Place acid-detection test strips next to your records. Change in color usually indicates an increase in acetic acid, which means you may need to consider a storage upgrade soon.
  10. Quarantine film with signs of advanced degradation. Vinegar syndrome is autocatalytic, meaning that the deterioration fuels itself. The more advanced the decay, the more acetic acid produced, which in turn can infect other records contained in the same storage space. We recommend storing more decayed film in an even colder storage.

Regardless of what steps you still need to take, your agency can greatly benefit from the help of a trusted partner. A professional can help you:

  • Assess the composition of your microfilm records.
  • Create an appropriate, temperature-and-humidity-controlled environment for your records. (Environmental control systems are available for acetate and polyester-based microfilm.)
  • Decide which decayed records should be separated from healthier records in order to prevent cross-contamination.
  • Upgrade antiquated acetate-based film to stable polyester-based film.
  • Digitize your records in compliance with current laws.

Kodak Modernization Solutions maintains, preserves and upgrades your agency's records in compliance with government mandates. Our services minimize risk and extend the life of your microfilm records. Learn how we can protect your records with a free briefing. Kodak will visit your storage facility, assess the situation and offer our recommendation.