Gregg County's microfilm is under attack

Gregg County's microfilm is under attack
Updated: Jul. 9, 2018 at 5:48 PM CDT
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LONGVIEW, TX (KLTV) - The microfilm is under attack. Employees at the Gregg County Clerk's Office discovered about 600 rolls of microfilm containing county documents suffering from a chemical reaction that is causing deterioration.

If left unchecked it would eventually ruin the affected film.

Gregg County has been using microfilm to preserve county documents for decades, and it's important they are properly preserved.

Gregg County Records Management Officer David Davis said he and his employees recently detected a vinegar odor on some of the county's microfilm.

"We had to take appropriate action," Davis said.

And Gregg County Judge Bill Stoudt said when the vinegar smell was found ...

"We immediately started pulling all those out to re-image them," Stoudt said.

Film preservationists call it "Vinegar Syndrome", and it causes specific symptoms.

"The film to turn red and smear and it's contagious. It's sort of like a virus," Davis explained.

Contaminated film has to be separated from healthy film so it doesn't spread. Davis said he believes it happened when "some of the vendors that we've used in the past kept the film and stored it in a storehouse summer and winter."

He said that happened about 20 years ago.

Davis said it's the heat, cold, and moisture that cause the degradation, and you can see examples of what's supposed to be black turning a red color and fading.

It may take a while to start but once it does ...

"It doesn't take that long to deteriorate," Davis stated.

Of course, now the county's microfilm is climate controlled. It's kept at a certain temperature and humidity level 24 hours a day seven days a week.

The microfilm is examined every year.

"A random check with all the rolls," Davis said.

Most of them are property deeds, which are pretty important for anyone buying or selling land.

"If it's taken care of properly, it'll be here another 100-150 years. And if it does start to deteriorate, you can always make another copy and have it another 150 years," Davis added.

That way, the future will have a clear look at the past.

The Gregg County Commissioners Court voted unanimously to allot $12,000 toward the $43,000 expense of preserving the film. The rest of the money is coming from the Gregg County Clerk's budget.

The films stored at the courthouse are copies. The original films are now stored in climate-controlled conditions at the Gregg County Airport.

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