In July of this year, HSP undertook a project to survey its microform holdings. Microform includes both microfilm and microfiche. Microfilm is like 35mm film, while microfiche is tiny images on a sheet of paper. HSP holds approximately 23,000 microfilm reels and 10,000 microfiche leaves, including facsimiles of serials, vital records, manuscript collections, and other materials. This project has two primary objectives: 1) compiling an inventory of the microform holdings and related data, including physical condition, image quality, intellectual property status, whether materials has already been digitized elsewhere, and other factors; 2) as time permits, I will assess select microform’s suitability for digitization based on physical condition and intellectual property concerns. So, where did I start with this project? I began by combining two already existing databases, and updating the new one with fields that help to describe the metadata that HSP wants to collect (physical condition, image quality, intellectual property status, etc). I also took note of the various locations around HSP where there is microfilm (there is film on 4 of our 5 floors!).
My day to day work includes working with film from one of these spaces. I either create or update a record for each film or set of films (collections). I check each individual reel for physical condition and image quality. When there are many reels in a collection, I “spot check”-- choosing films from the beginning and end of the collection. In some cases, the collections are quite large, and have been filmed at various points over time. An example of this is the Philadelphia Inquirer, which was filmed in sets over the course of many years. When something like this occurs, I make sure to “spot check” film from each date. One fun part of this job is getting to see the fun colored film that different film companies have used – I have seen blues, red, pinks, and yellow, among others.
What obstacles have I come across during my work? For the most part, the largest obstacle I have run into has been preservation problems. The main preservation problems with microform include degradation (usually redox blemishes - colored dots from oxidation), vinegar syndrome, and discoloration of the film. Vinegar syndrome refers to the smell from the off-gassing and decay of the film, which over time also degrades the film so that it comes brittle and fragile. Other preservation problems stem from eroding tape or rubber bands that have been used to keep the film from unspooling. In these pictures, you can see how the tape leaves residue on the film. You can also see how an old rubber band holds onto the film, and breaks when taken off.
The great news is that the progress of this project is on target. At the end of the six-month project, in late January, there will be a complete inventory of the microform holdings at HSP, ready to be used for reference work and to be consulted for digital projects in the future.