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Microfilm machines go digital at the Manchester City Library

November 15th, 2013 · 1 Comment · City Library, Foundation, Local History, Main Branch, News, NH Room, Research Tip of the Week, Technology

Boston Globe MicrofilmHave you ever looked up an obituary, or any old newspaper article, on a roll of microfilm? How about browse the pages of an old city directory or government report on microfiche?

However it was presented, the official name for this media is microform, and if you’re under a certain age, you might never have had occasion to use it. For the uninitiated, microform features images that have been photographed—like newspapers, reports, or maps—then reduced to a fraction of their original size, usually one twenty-fifth. Images stored on rolls of film are called microfilm; those stored on flat sheets of film are called microfiche, or simply fiche. Old microfilm and microfiche readers would illuminate and magnify these images for viewing and printing. The library has several of these machines, on which you can view thousands of newspapers and government documents.

Prior to digitization, microfilm was the best way to store large amounts of information in a small space. It also gave people access to documents that may have been too fragile to keep in their original format.

Microfilm had some disadvantages, though. Images were only as good as the source image and the equipment available at the time to photograph it. If the film image was too light or too dark, the old microfilm machines could only do so much to fix it. The proof was in the printout. That was your only option, short of sitting in front of the machine and taking notes, or more recently snapping a picture of it with your digital camera or phone.

Until now. Thanks to our colleague Cynthia O’Neil’s research, and funding from the Manchester City Library Foundation, the library has purchased a new digital microfilm reader, the ScanPro 2000. Connected to a PC, it includes editing software that can clean up common problems associated with microfilm. You can use it to straighten crooked images, adjust brightness and contrast, magnify and zoom, and crop images.

Available in the NH Room, the ScanPro 2000 also gives you more options besides printing for taking your research with you. Want to save that obituary you found as a PDF file? Done! Want to save it as a searchable PDF that you can copy and paste into a document you’re typing? No problem! Want to save that image you found as a JPEG file? Now you can. You can save the file to your USB flash drive or send it via e-mail.

Come give it a try, next time you’re in, when the NH Room is open. Check here for the NH Room’s hours, or make an appointment.

Steve Viggiano

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