OFFICE OF SECRETARY OF STATE
GEORGIA DEPARTMENT OF
ARCHIVES AND HISTORY

REFORMATTING RECORDS

Updated: Monday, March 31, 1997


The Georgia Records Act requires each state agency to "establish and maintain an active program for the economical and efficient management of records..." [Official Code of Georgia, Annotated (O.C.G.A.) 50-18-94]. Each local government is required to "approve by resolution or ordinance a records management plan..." [O.C.G.A. 50-18-99].

Records come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and types, such as hand-copied ledger books, newspaper files, and various forms created over time to record information for licenses, court orders, and permits. Unstable or heavily used records may require transfer to another format, such as microfilm or permanent paper, to ensure preservation of the information they contain.

 

MICROFILM

Records are microfilmed to preserve their information, reduce wear and tear on originals, save space, and improve access. Copies of film can be distributed to off-site locations, providing access to more than one user at a time. The Microfilm Disposal Schedule and some records retention schedules allow for the early disposal of records once microfilmed. If properly processed and stored, black and white, silver gelatin microfilm has a usable life of about 500 years, far longer than the useful life of many poor-quality original paper records. Camera masters of the film currently may be stored at the Georgia Department of Archives and History, ensuring the existence of a "security copy." Even if original paper records were damaged, stolen, or destroyed, the information from those records would still survive if the originals had been filmed.

 

SELECTION

Microfilm all vital records. O.C.G.A. 50-18-91 defines vital records as "any record vital to the resumption or continuation of operations, or both; to the recreation of the legal and financial status of government in the state; or to the protection and fulfillment of obligations to citizens of the state." Vital records are among the permanent records for which an agency is responsible.

Typical vital records include board minutes and tax, birth, marriage, deed, and death records. Also regard inventories and finding aids as vital records. Many record schedules indicate which records are vital.

Courthouses often keep files of local newspapers that are in poor condition and consume a considerable amount of space. Retain newspapers on microfilm. Many community newspapers are already available on microfilm through the Georgia Newspaper Project, coordinated by the University of Georgia Libraries. Before investing limited resources to film published materials, first check local and regional repositories and databases to see if the items have already been filmed.

Because of their artifactual value, also preserve newspapers printed prior to the Civil War in their original format.

 

MICROFILM SERVICE COMPANIES

Microfilming is a technically complex and labor-intensive operation. In addition to the obvious expense of cameras, microfilming requires equipment for processing and copying, and there must be bibliographic and technical assessments of the completed films. Microfilm personnel need appropriate training. Equipment demands ongoing maintenance to produce completed film which will meet required standards.

A professional microfilm service company can microfilm records more economically than setting up an in-house operation.

It is vitally important to evaluate the qualifications of any microfilm service company. Network with other record custodians and inquire about their experiences with microfilming agents. Contact potential agencies by phone. Question them about their experience filming records that are bound, fragile, or oversized. Ask the microfilming agent for at least three references from other government agencies and contact these agencies to see how the vendor handled records, met deadlines, and responded to refilming corrections. Visit the microfilm vendor's operation. Ask questions about standards, procedures, and security.

 

PHYSICAL PREPARATION

Microfilm must contain all of the information as it appears on an original record. Filming is conducted so that all individual documents and groups of documents maintain their numerical or sequential order. Correct order is essential to ensure that microfilmed records will be accepted as evidence in a court of law.

In most cases, the records repository will prepare materials prior to filming and contract with a microfilm service company for the actual filming of the records. Before filming, remove all paper clips, staples, and other fasteners from the records. Gently open and flatten all records in preparation for filming. Use a soft white brush to remove from the records any surface dirt that might reduce resolution or sharpness of the final microfilmed image.

Take the time to verify that records are prepared in the correct order to be filmed. Note where records are incomplete, illegible, or misnumbered, and be sure to provide this information to the microfilm service agency with the records to be filmed.

 

BIBLIOGRAPHIC PREPARATION

An indexing system is usually required for finding records on a reel of microfilm. Micrographics standards require eye-legible targets at the beginning of a reel that state the name of the government or agency that is the creator of the records on the film, the title of the record series, and its inclusive dates. Targets must also be included to indicate any irregularities in the original records. Targets can be prepared by the microfilm service agency from information supplied by the office or repository.

Once records have been filmed, remember to change your finding aids to direct users to request microfilm rather than the originals.

 

CONTRACTS

A written contract will outline specific requirements and describe the record series to be filmed. Include cubic feet or number of items, if known. Specify in this contract that all work must be done according to the Micrographics Standards established by the Georgia State Records Committee and the Administrative Office of the Courts. Copies of these standards are available from the Georgia Department of Archives and History.

Research several companies and determine whether other agencies were pleased with the quality of their work. Solicit bids for the project from at least three companies.

 

STANDARDS

Micrographics standards define exactly what should happen in the microfilming process, to ensure that the end product is of the highest quality possible. Standards prescribe appropriate targets, density and resolution, film quality, processing, and quality control. The standards also prescribe the creation of a camera negative (security copy), a printing negative (reproduction copy), and use copies. All microfilm, whether produced by a microfilm service company or produced in-house, must meet the Micrographics Standards.

 

DIGITAL SCANNING

While scanning records for electronic use allows access by multiple users and saves space, digital scanning requires an expensive commitment to supporting technologies used to convert and retrieve records. Moreover, digital technology is not yet standardized, and new developments are continually occurring.

Microfilm is a stable technology and a proven method for preserving records. Microfilm records first. At at later date, the microfilm copy can be scanned for ready access as needed.

 

PHOTOCOPYING

Photocopying is another way to preserve the informational content of records. Records on poor-quality papers and those generated by thermofax copying processes or pressure-transfer forms are unstable.

Transfer information from these records to alkaline papers that meet the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) standard for permanent paper, Z39.48-1992. Such papers are readily available from paper distributors upon request. Copying onto stable alkaline paper will help to ensure the long-term preservation of the information contained in a record.

Make all preservation photocopies using a black and white copy machine. Color photocopies may not be stable over the long term.

 

SURROGATES

As a records custodian, you are protecting the rights of both present and future users to have access to records. Continued use of originals can prevent future access to information if records become damaged through excessive wear. Use photocopiers to create a "use copy," or surrogate. Write policies to limit access to originals when surrogates are available, and explain to users why you are taking this extra care.

When making surrogates, never send original records through a document feeder on a photocopier. If it is necessary to "feed" oversized records through a copying machine designed exclusively for this purpose, place original documents in protective polyester sleeves prior to duplication.

 

RESOURCES AND PUBLICATIONS

Reformatting is an effective way to ensure the long-term preservation of information. For more information, call 404-656-3554 to contact the Georgia Department of Archives and History, a division of the Office of Secretary of State.

 

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES:

American National Standards Institute (ANSI), 11 West 42nd Street, New York, New York 10036, Telephone: 212-642-4900.

Available from: Office of Secretary of State, Department of Archives and History, 330 Capitol Avenue, S.E., Atlanta, GA 30334, Telephone: 404-656-2379.

Managing Public Records: Micrographics Standards. Office of Secretary of State, Department of Archives and History, 330 Capitol, Avenue, S.E., Atlanta, Georgia 30334,Telephone: 404-656-2379.

The Georgia Newspaper Project. Photographic Services, University of Georgia Library, Main, Athens, Georgia 30602, Telephone: 404-542-2131.

Eklington, Nancy E., editor. RLG Archives Microfilming Manual. Mountainview, California: Research Libraries Group, Inc., 1994, Telephone: 415-691-2200.


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