The Value of Microfilm and Microforms

The Value of Microfilm, Microfiche, and Microforms Article Header

As I arrived at the Historic Pittsburgh Fair, held at the Carnegie Library on November 3, 2018, I entered into a room on the third floor that holds genealogy and historical records. This, of course, was also the location for my appointment with the archivists and the digital specialist. The room was a bit plain and certainly didn't have the same grandeur of many of the other rooms and floors in the building. That didn't stop me from wanting to wander the room while I waited.

As I wandered, I noticed what looked like file cabinets that might house library index cards. So I opened a drawer and, to my amazement, they contained microfilm rolls perfectly labeled and housed in their cardboard boxes. I then turned around and noticed the microform machines which I had overlooked on my way into the room.

I have not seen or touched a microform machine, microfilm, or microfiche in over 20 years. Yet seeing these made me happy. I used these in my youth to discover and write about subjects of interest or that were assigned to me by the powers that be. Unfortunately, at that age, if I couldn't find the information, I sometimes let my imagination prevail to fill in the gaps.

Today, I know what these little reels of film can do to help research stories and uncover information that, much of the time, remains buried. This is especially true for newspapers which, I discovered during my session, easily deteriorate. Also, my experience with online newspaper repositories is they normally charge for accessing the information and their scans are of low quality. How do microforms compare?

It is important to note the quality of the images on these reels can be impressive and much better than the digitized documents that we have grown accustomed to accessing online today. Many of these can be "print" quality or over 300 dpi. So consider these as another resource.

As I usually do, I took pictures of the machines and then wandered back to the drawers. I proceeded to open at least thirty of these drawers to gaze at these reels of history. Some of these pictures are shared below. Hopefully you see gems in these reels.

For more information about microfilm and to submit a request, visit the Carnegie Library.

Leave a Comment