American Library Association 2013 Annual ConferenceQuick — name the most exciting event going on in Chicago this Friday!

I bet you just said one of two things: the Blackhawks’ Stanley Cup victory parade, or the American Library Association Annual Conference. Am I right?

OK, you probably picked the Blackhawks, but after that, Digital Check’s sister company, ST Imaging, will be down at McCormick Place for the 2013 ALA Annual Conference showing off their brand-new microfilm scanner, the ViewScan II. We really don’t talk about ST Imaging enough here, but we ought to — we’re both in the imaging and optics business, and we both make equipment that helps keep older technology relevant in the digital age; checks in our case, microfilm in ST Imaging’s.

Microfilm Scanner - ViewScan II by ST Imaging

Just like they have with paper checks, people have been predicting for ages that microfilm is on its way out, but in reality, there’s still so much of it around that even though “everything is going digital now,” microfilm is not going anywhere soon. Think about it this way: The Internet has existed in something like its present form for about (being generous) 15 years. Virtually every piece of meaningful information since then has been stored somewhere in digital format, even if it’s not necessarily online. Microfilm came into commercial use in the 1920s, so it encompasses nearly a century’s worth of information, plus billions of pre-1920 documents that someone or other thought worth preserving. My town’s library, for example, has thousands of reels containing issues of the local newspaper dating all the way back to the 1800s.

It’s true that a lot of the most important pre-Internet information has since been converted to digital. But it’s probably only a scratch on the surface of the total amount of information contained in the world’s microfilm vaults. If you want a copy of the New York Times from the day after V-J Day or the Apollo 11 landing, you’ll have no trouble finding that online. But if you’re retracing the minor-league baseball season of the 1908 Pacific Coast League, or looking up information about your great-great-grandfather, odds are that’s somewhere on a roll of microfilm that no one has had the time or money to convert.

How much information is contained on microfilm around the world? No one knows for sure, but it’s truly an astounding amount, and given the various circumstances in different countries, it’s unlikely that it will all be converted to digital any time soon. In the meantime, the goal is to come up with better ways to sort through those troves of information, improving upon old schoolroom-style readers and using modern computers and software to make the job easier. That’s what ST Imaging does in a nutshell, and I’m sure we’ll be writing more about them in the future. Until then, we hope the show is a success, and go Hawks!

The ALA conference runs today through Monday.