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March 15, 2012
Town of Penfield to use 'space-age' storage system
In an age that is becoming increasingly paper-less, the town of Penfield is converting thousands of documents to waferfiche, a new method of preserving documents that is said to last up to five centuries.
The town currently has thousands of paper files, including meeting minutes, agendas, and even burial records that date back to the early 1800s and town board meeting minutes from 1958.
As keeper of all Penfield town records, clerk Amy Steklof has been looking for ways to convert them to a digitized format to preserve records for historical and archival value. She was first introduced to this technology at the NY State Town Clerks Association convention five years ago.
"I know the importance in preserving vital records," said Steklof. "If you need to save records for historical purposes, this is a great thing."
To complete this task, the town has hired NanoArk, a locally owned and operated business in Perinton that does Waferfiche conversion for towns.
So how does it work?
The finished Waferfiche product looks like a CD. To convert the raw documents, paper and microfilm is first converted to digital files, which are then chemically etched onto the silicon disc and coated in plastic.
"These wafers are fire proof and water proof," said NanoArk sales manager Mary Ann Amick, who said that the wafers can last up to 500 years.
On a practical level, this method of storage makes sense when you consider the threat of natural disaster, said Steklof, who noted that towns in Greene County, New York lost a bulk of their town records after Hurricane Irene last year. This is one reason why the town is making the conversion a big priority.
Each disc can hold at least 2,000 document images each at $160 per wafer. Penfield is spending just over a budgeted $11,170 on this service.
This technology was first developed by NASA during the 1960s when astronauts used the wafers to carry messages of peace from countries on earth to moon dwellers.
"Obviously, they couldn't leave these messages of peace on paper," said Amick, with a chuckle.
It wasn't until 2006 that NanoArk was formed as a spinoff of an RIT incubator program that allows Ph.D. students to develop new technology - in this case, Waferfiche. Penfield is now among many local towns and villages to use this method of preservation.
Others using Waferfiche Technology in past year include the town of Greece, the town of Parma and village of Hilton, the village of Wolcott, Wayne Central School District and the West Webster Fire District.
The town's complete conversion to Waferfiche is expected to be complete by June of 2013.