Center for Archival Collections
December 2003: Volume 22, Number 3
The Gallery: Micrographics Laboratory
This issue of the Archival Chronicle Gallery shows the procedure used in microfilming documents, whether manuscripts, newspapers, or local government records. All photographs are from the CAC General Photograph Collection.
Many people believe that the greatest contribution that microfilm makes to historical research is the reduction in storage volume. Months, or even years, of newspapers can be reduced to a single roll of microfilm. In fact, when properly produced and stored, microfilm will last for 500 years, and the information it carries will still be readable with only a light source and some magnification, no matter what other technology developments come and go in the meantime. Besides the reduction in storage space and the archival permanence of the copy, microfilm can be easily duplicated and distributed to distant research sites for use by hundreds of researchers, all without additional damage to the original record. It is no easy matter, however, to produce microfilm that meets the highest standards for permanence and usefulness.
The Northwest Ohio Regional Book Depository
The Center for Archival Collections' Preservation Lab is housed in the Northwest Ohio Regional Book Depository, located in Perrysburg, Ohio. The CAC early became a leader in the preservation of documents of historical value to this region, first by collecting and providing systematic access to local government records, newspapers, and manuscripts, and then by adding a micrographics operation in the early 1970s. Later, a paper conservation laboratory was established. In 1996, the Preservation Lab moved to this facility, to a space especially designed for the needs of micrographics and paper conservation work.
Planning a Filming Schedule
Micrographics Specialist Kathy Gardner, seated at left, meets with Interim Director Ann Bowers to review recent microfilming contracts. The Micrographics Laboratory provides services to many agencies, including Bowling Green State University, local government offices in a nineteen county region, and area churches, among others. Kathy meets with clients to determine the extent of each project and to estimate the time that will be involved in preparing and shooting the records, and in producing the microfilm. With these estimates, she can schedule workflow through the lab so that clients are served most quickly and efficiently. Thanks to these contracts, the Micrographics Laboratory is completely self-supporting and, in fact, contributes to the funds available for CAC operations.
Documents Arrive for Microfilming
When documents arrive for microfilming, they must first be accurately identified and placed in the proper order in relation to other documents in the collection. Local government records frequently are created in large ledger volumes, as well appearing as loose paper files. The newspapers seen here may have been bound by the publisher for neater storage and easier retrieval. However, some of the pages have become brittle and have fallen out of the volumes. All these pages must be identified, repaired, and placed in the proper sequence before microfilming can begin.
Preparing documents for microfilming is an exacting task. Volumes of bound material must often be cut open so that the pages will lie flat on the camera table and no information will be lost to the inside margin of the volume. Each page is numbered, allowing the processor to check that all original pages are present and in the correct order. Any missing or damaged pages are noted on the inventory. These numbers will be useful again during proofreading. If any problems arise during filming, the original records can be quickly located and put under the camera again.
Creating Targets and Finding Aid
Before the documents are microfilmed, supporting information about the records is noted and included in preliminary material which is filmed with the documents. Here, microfilm processor Jennifer Golis is creating a finding aid for the collection, which will give background information about the material and its creator and describe the order in which the records were microfilmed. She will also prepare "targets" which separate different records appearing on the same roll of microfilm, so that researchers will always know what records they are viewing. These targets describe problems with the original records (such as missing or blank pages) or warn when a page has been filmed more than once to get the best exposure.
Under the Camera
35 mm Microfilm Camera in Operation
In the camera room, four 35mm microfilm cameras are used by the Micrographics Lab. Here, Briana, a student employee, microfilms a newspaper. Guidelines on the camera table help keep the page square and the lights on either side assure an even exposure of the entire page.
The Center for Archival Collections regularly acquires fifty current northwest Ohio newspapers, thanks to a cooperative program with their publishers. Many of these newspapers are microfilmed at regular intervals through contract with the publishers. The microfilm is available for researchers at the CAC, where it provides a wealth of information on local history and genealogy. In addition to the current publications, the CAC actively seeks out and microfilms back issues of any newspaper in our nineteen county region which is not already held in our collections. Our goal is to have the most complete record possible of the history of Northwest Ohio.
Microfilming Church Records
Sue Bumpus sets the exposure for a series of church records. Varying as they do in format and state of preservation, even small church collections of a few volumes can be very time-consuming to microfilm. Sometimes a series of exposures is necessary to ensure that every entry on a page is readable. These records provide vital information on births, deaths, and marriages of persons before county governments began recording this information. As some of the first formal institutions established by pioneer settlers, they provide a glimpse of the social life of early Ohio.
In 2002, the CAC completed a two-year project to microfilm the sacramental records of every parish in the Diocese of Toledo. Records from all denominations continue to be welcome to this program. See our Bibliography of Church-Related Manuscript Collections for a complete listing of all church collections held by the CAC.
Local Government Records Microfilmed
Local government agencies, such as county Boards of Health, also use our services to microfilm vital records of permanent historical value. Microfilm Assistant Lindy Eynon places a page on the "done" stack. The small label above the record on the camera table is one of the targets used to identify something special about this particular page. Colored paper, blurred or faded ink, or other damage is identified and multiple exposures are often shot to ensure the best possible reproduction of the original record.
16 mm Microfilm Camera
Melinda Charter is seen here using the 16 mm microfilm camera to shoot a Bowling Green State University thesis or dissertation. This smaller format camera is ideal for microfilming records of a small, uniform size. All theses and dissertations produced by BGSU graduate students are microfilmed, as are many other university records of permanent historical value. Board of Trustees minutes and staff directories are among the series of records available for use at the CAC.
Darkroom and Quality Control
Clean equipment and carefully mixed chemicals are essential to producing microfilm which meets archival standards. In addition, the temperature of the water used to prepare the chemicals must be monitored to ensure that it falls into a narrow range. A temperature which is too high or too low can affect the quality of the image on the film.
Each roll of film exposed in the camera room is developed in this machine. The microfilm passes through a series of chemical baths that develop, fix, and rinse it. This ensures minimal handling of the microfilm, protecting it from fingerprints and other contaminants. All camera negatives produced are silver negatives, like those used in traditional black and white photography. Silver negatives provide the highest resolution, which allows for clarity in the smallest details. Silver negatives also are the most chemically-stable over time and thus are required to meet archival standards.
Once the microfilm is produced, it is tested to be sure that it meets ANSI standards (American National Standards Institute). In Ohio, local government records which have been microfilmed may serve as a legal copy, if they have a statement of certification/authenticity on the microfilm itself from the agency which created the records and if the microfilm meets national standards for quality and permanence. Likewise, records which are filmed for the Genealogical Society of Utah program must also meet strict quality standards. All microfilm produced by the CAC's Micrographics Lab meets these standards.
Checking the Resolution
Here Kathy uses a microscope to check the quality of the microfilming. Each roll is filmed with a chart showing the amount of reduction and a test pattern. In addition to a visual inspection, the microfilm undergoes other laboratory tests to ensure that chemical residue from processing the film is kept to a minimum. The white cotton gloves Kathy is wearing also protect the film from fingerprints.
Duplicating and Storage
Silver Film Duplicator
Once a microfilm negative has passed the quality control tests described above, a "use" copy is produced for researchers. This duplicator makes copies on film with a silver halide estar base. Many authorities consider silver microfilm to be the only film suitable for archival permanence. However, use copies are at greater risk if they are not handled carefully, since they are easily scratched and torn. This film is also more sensitive to damage from humidity.
Vesicular Film Duplicator
Most microfilm used by researchers at the CAC is vesicular microfilm. Vesicular polyester-based film is more durable under average use conditions. It is much less likely to scratch or break and is less sensitive to humidity. However, this film is not considered "archival" because it is not known how permanent the image will be over a period of centuries. It has shown excellent image stability under practical conditions for decades.
Because temperature and humidity affect the permanence of the microfilm image, all negatives produced at the Preservation Lab are stored in a vault where the environmental conditions are carefully monitored and controlled. Lights are turned off in the vault except when a negative is needed. Each acid-free storage box is numbered and inventoried so that the correct negative can be quickly retrieved when a patron places an order for a copy.
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