Condition survey: Microfilm

One of the biggest (and most educational) tasks of this project was our comprehensive condition survey of our newspaper collection. Our student workers Aneesah and Kim worked diligently to identify physical problems with the materials that might effect how items are prioritized when making digitization choices.

This post showcases some of the results for the microfilm in the collection, which gets the most use, and will probably be the format most content is digitized from (as opposed to original newsprint, which is more costly). Some of the results confirmed my ideas of the collection:

Screen Shot 2013-09-30 at 4.28.50 PMThese results show that most of our microfilm consists of positive exposure acetate film with 2 images per frame, which I have learned is pretty standard for access microfilm. Unfortunately for us, this scenario is not ideal for digitization. NDNP best practices stipulate that master negative microfilm results in the best possible image when scanning. Furthermore, acetate film is generally of poor quality, and was eventually replaced by polyester, which became the standard film material in the 1980s.  (Read more about acetate here).

Acetate film degrades over time, and becomes subject to “vinegar syndrome,” which is characterized by a vinegar odor. As the acetate backing of the film separates and degrades, it releases an acid that produces a vinegar-like smell, which in turn accelerates the process of degradation. Read more about vinegar syndrome here.

Screen Shot 2013-09-30 at 4.51.21 PMA couple of notes about these condition results:

The other category includes anecdotal observations that were not options on the survey form, such as “dark edges and/or corners,” or “torn pages.” I believe this is useful information, even though it isn’t quantifiable in Google’s form reporting function.

It isn’t necessarily true that 25% of the microfilm has scratches on the film itself, although I wouldn’t rule out the possibility that some of this film is scratched. It is available for use after all. I suspect that there appear to be scratches in the image projected by the microfilm reader, which could have been produced by many factors, including the physical state of the newsprint when the microfilm was originally made.

For instance, this scan of microfilm shows what could be scratches on the film, or irregularities on the original newsprint, or, as identified with the circle, a piece of lint found on the glass of the microfilm reader!

Highland Park News-Herald & Journal, January 4, 1962

Highland Park News-Herald & Journal, January 4, 1962

While our microfilm is not up to the highest digitization standards, we know that it isn’t held by many other institutions. (And for some tiles, Oxy is likely the only place maintaining microfilm or print). For me, this reinforces the need to digitize this material for the sake of long-term preservation and use.


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