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Microfilming Guidelines

In Preservation Microfilming: A Guide for Librarians and Archivists (1987), Nancy E. Gwinn wrote: <block> [Microfilming is] ... the most reliable method of format conversion for paper-based records, ... [and thus] ... has become firmly established as an essential component of a comprehensive preservation program. Although no one could be accused of liking microfilm, its benefits are undeniable. No other currently available technology offers proven long-term preservation at reasonable cost. </block>

"Reasonable cost” is, of course, used in a relative sense here. In the past, reasonable cost included all of the staff time that went into preparing materials for microfilming and reviewing the microfilm after it was created on top of the fees paid to Photographic Services to produce the master negative for off-site storage and three additional copies: a printing negative for on-site storage from which new positives can be made; a positive copy for use in Public Services; and a positive copy for use at Davis Microforms. A good deal of paper work was involved in tracking these copies. As of March 2006, we will outsource microfilm to a vendor and no longer request a positive copy for use in Public Services.

A considerable amount of Department staff time will still go into microfilming projects before the actual filming. If you consider how documents appear on film, you will realize that materials to be filmed require more intensive annotation than might be thought adequate otherwise. In addition, because the order of items is fixed once they are on film, much work has to be done to insure that they are in the correct order when they are sent out to the vendor.

Microfilming of manuscript materials can be fairly tricky. Materials in manuscript collections tend to range widely in paper size, paper and ink colors, and other variables that drive filmers crazy. To minimize re-shooting, it is important that collections are sent to the vendor with clear, precise instructions on how to handle problem items (like scrapbooks) and that we work closely with the filmer to make sure that we get the best possible product.

To that end, we spend a great deal of time producing "targets," informational notes that serve as navigational aids to users. Targets are made to show reel numbers, series/subseries numbers, notes on missing pages, and other useful information. We routinely insert "notes to the filmer" in the actual materials where we see potential for confusion on how to handle particular items (e.g., very complicated page order, odd-size items). In the past we "programmed" the reels, which involves counting the number of frames materials will require so that reel breaks can be established. We will no longer do this. We also used to take responsibility for inspecting the film for omissions, errors in page order, double-takes, blurs, and other problems, but will no longer perform these quality control measures, except in rare circumstances, because they are too time-intensive. We will rely on the vendor for high quality filming and on researchers to notify us of filming errors they come across.

Microfilming is extremely labor intensive. If your collection is to be filmed, you will work closely with your supervising archivist to prepare the collection and to handle the post-filming work. If you become involved in a microfilming project, it may buoy up your spirits to remember that permanent preservation of valuable materials is worth all the hassles.

Prepping Manuscript Collections For Microfilming

The key to success in any microfilming project is to make the materials as easy to film as possible. The easier the materials are to film, the fewer are the errors we’ll find when we review the actual film. Because correcting errors is costly, time-consuming, and bad for the durability of the film, we want to help produce film that is as close to error-free as possible.

Our job is to make sure that the materials are in the correct order within the folders, that the order is clear to the filmer, and that there are clear instructions on how to handle individual items that may present problems. This is called prepping. If we prep well, the filmer should have few questions about how to proceed, and the project should go smoothly.

  1. Check date of each item to make sure that it is filed in the correct year. If the item has a different date than the year you are expecting, or no date at all, flag it for your supervising archivist’s review.
  2. Check for completeness. Are all of the pages of the letter (and/or enclosure) present? If not, flag it for your supervising archivist’s review.
  3. Annotate documents as needed.
    • a. You do NOT need to annotate if
      • The date appears clearly on the first page;
      • The sequence of the pages will be obvious to the filmer; and
      • It's obvious where one document ends and the next begins.
    • b. Documents with multiple pages.
      • If a document’s date is somewhere other than the first page, then write it on the first page. Write neatly in pencil, putting the date in square brackets in the top, right corner of the page.
      • Annotate documents with multiple pages with the date from the first page and a page number:
        • [1 May 1923/1] [1 May 1923/2].
    • c. When an item includes enclosures:
      • Keep enclosures (e.g. clippings, a photo to which reference is made in the letter) behind the letter in which they were enclosed.
        • Annotate enclosures in square brackets with the date of the letter with which they were enclosed: [Encl. 1 May 1923]
        • Annotate enclosures with multiple pages or multiple enclosures with the date of the letter with which they were enclosed and a page number: [Encl. 1 May 1923/1] [Encl. 1 May 1923/2].
  4. . Remove paper clips, staples, other fasteners after ordering and annotating as appropriate.
  5. . Unfold any folded items.
  6. . Flag for your supervising archivist’s review:
      • fragile items (things that are in pieces or look like they might fall apart when touched)
      • envelopes
      • duplicates
      • oversized materials (items that must be folded to fit in folder)
      • whole newspapers, magazines
      • old processing notes
      • ANYTHING that you are unsure of

Microfilm Review

The reviewing film is the preservation master negative. This is the original that will be archived after a printing negative has been generated. Because it is the archival copy it is important that the preservation master negative be handled with care. We want to avoid any chance of scratching, smudging, or tearing of the film. ALWAYS wear gloves when handling the film. Gloves need not be worn while reviewing film that is in the microfilm reader.

To keep in mind:

  • Be gentle in advancing and rewinding the film. Slow and steady is better for the film.
  • The loading lever should be open when advancing and rewinding the film in order to minimize contact with the film.
  • After reviewing folder contents, please tidy the contents before returning them to the box.

Our job is to spot check the film to make sure that no pages have been omitted in the filming process. We will compare the film to the originals every ten frames.

The first frames on every reel will be targets: start; bibliographic information; and then technical information. The collection contents follow immediately.

  • Check the first item on the film and then find the same item in the collection.
  • Advance the film ten frames. (There is a frame counter along the bottom of the film to help you keep track.)
  • Compare the tenth film frame with the tenth page in the folder. Be sure to count every side that has writing or print of any kind. Is the image on the screen the same as the item in the folder?
  • If yes, count the next ten frames on the film and the next ten pages in the folder, compare, and so on.
  • If the image and item do not match, determine where the filming mistake is. More often than not a page will have been filmed twice. This is an imperfection but not a problem. If this is the case proceed to the next set of ten. If the filmer missed a page (often the second side of an item), make a note of the item (frame number, date, identifying name, etc.) on a separate sheet of paper, and then flag the item in the folder.
  • Be sure to flag any irregularities, such as filming out of order, missing pages, or anything else that seems suspicious.

A reel will often take a couple of hours to check. This is a long time to sit close to a microfilm reader. If you need to take a break that’s fine, but be sure to turn off the reader light and open the loading lever. If you will be away from the film for more than a few short minutes, remove the film from the reader and place it in its box.

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