|By Jason "Textfiles" Scott (http://www.flickr.com/photos/textfiles/6050671726/) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons|
The age of microfilm is, for all practical purposes, coming to an end. As with all technological changes, there is always a residual time-lapse transition. As a professional photographer, I remember reading in the Arizona Highways Magazine just a few years ago how they were "dedicated" to film-based photography and were not about to move to digital. As the years passed, the Arizona Highways Magazine released some very strict and expensive requirements for digital photography. Finally, they began to publish digital photographs almost exclusively. It was also apparent to me, as a photographer and computer user, that many of the "digital" photos had an obvious dose of Adobe Photoshop and/or Adobe Lightroom manipulation.
Meanwhile, back in the larger genealogical community, we are seeing the floodgates open on digital imaging. FamilySearch.org will sooner or later finalize the ongoing project to digitize the contents of the Granite Vault, some 2.4 million rolls of microfilm. recent online estimates indicate that somewhere around half of the rolls have been digitized. However, a very subjective review of the FamilySearch.org Catalog indicates that there are still a considerable number of records left to digitize. It may well be that the biggest obstacles are political and legal rather than practical.
Here are my own personal observations updated to the date of this post. When I say personal, I mean that these all rank speculation. However, some of the speculation is based on obvious, technological changes that have a high degree of probability.
1. Except for some very specialized data preservation situations, microfilm will become very nearly extinct within a "few" years.
2. Digital imaging will continue to rapidly expand the availability of online genealogically significant records. However, there are some significant issue and the story about what happened in Milwaukee, Wisconsin if you think that online records will be "free." See "Library Charged $1.5 Million for Journal Archive." This type of story may become all too common in the future as there are those willing to take advantage of the monetization of genealogical records.
3. The traditional function of most, if not all of the Family History Centers of ordering, stocking and supplying microfilm will eventually end.
4. Genealogical research at some levels will become trivial with automated record hints supplying many basic records during the past two hundred years or so.
5. Moving beyond the basic level of genealogical research will prove to be even more complex than it is today with many experienced genealogists literally swimming in a sea of unsubstantiated family trees.
6. At least in the U.S. and other developed countries, Family History Centers will likely be consolidated in some areas and evolved into support and training centers. Genealogists who wish to extend their research beyond what is avaialable readily online, will have about the same challenges that have always existed in finding records.
Time will certainly tell whether or not any of these "predictions" will come to pass. But what is certain is that there will be major changes.