National Archives at St. Louis

Records Reformatting

Currently, the Preservation Laboratory engages in two types of reformatting to preserve the information and content of at-risk and intrinsically-valued records: microfilming and digital scanning.


The microfilm lab produces film-based copies of fragile and unique records for two purposes:

  • To provide readable surrogates of the original documents for access
  • To create back-up security copies for off-site storage

The Microfilm Process:

The Laboratory is equipped with modular microfilm camera systems with high resolution lenses and computerized camera controls. Microfilm technicians produce silver master negatives on site, and the Laboratory ships them to NARA's photographic facilities in College Park, MD for development.

Once developed, the film is returned to St. Louis where it undergoes inspection for technical quality, ensuring that correct camera settings were used and that the film was properly developed. Technicians also verify the bibliographic quality of the film, so that all documents are accounted for and are in correct order.

After the quality of the film has been verified, Microfilm technicians produce reference copies from the silver master film for administrative and research use. The silver master rolls are then shipped to an underground, permanent storage facility.

Why use Microfilm?

Even now in the digital era, microfilm remains an important component of preservation because it:

  • Is a proven format that, when properly created and stored, has a life expectancy of 500 years
  • Is a stable technology that is fully supported by numerous national standards
  • Can be read by the human eye using only light and some magnification
  • Is a technology currently accepted by NARA as a permanent medium

Digital Scanning:

In May 2007, the digital lab began digitizing documents in the Official Military Personnel Files (OMPF) of Persons of Exceptional Prominence (PEP). As there is considerable demand and interest in these records; the NPRC is systematically producing a DVD of each PEP service record, containing high resolution images in a user friendly digital format.

On the horizon are plans to scan and enhance select burned files (B-files) and other damaged records at the NPRC. Digital scanning can dramatically assist in information recovery, as document enhancement can reveal details previously undetectable to the naked eye. Scanning these documents is also important for preservation, as it makes the information available to reference technicians, research room patrons and the general public while protecting the documents from further damage due to repetitive handling.