Microphotography in Archives -3

Uses of Microphotography

    Microphotography can solve a number of problems in the archives. Firstly, microphotographs need much less filing space than the original publications. When carefully prepared, micro-records have a higher degree of permanence than most modern papers. [1] They are easily and quickly produced at low cost. For these reasons, microphotographs of manuscripts, printed books, periodicals, pamphlets, etc., can be used instead of the original documents, and rarely used documents may even be published in microform.

    Admittedly, the reader will always prefer the original publication to the micro-copy, and wherever possible libraries should provide the originals. Micro-records can never be a substitute for original documents, but they may well supplement them. [2] The reader will be quite satisfied if he can get a microcopy of a document which is not obtainable otherwise. In principle, enlarged prints can be made from microphotographs, but this method is justified only for documents which have constantly to be referred to or which have to be compared.

    Some of the uses of Microphotography are as follows:

    (I) Inter – Archive Loans: The enormous increase of literature, the increase of the number of archive users and the trend towards specialization are the main factors leading to an expansion of inter-archive loan. Not only does the number of borrowed items increase continuously, but there is also an urgent demand for a quicker service in inter-archive loan.

    The use of microphotographs instead of original publications in inter-library loan has the following advantages. The original stays in the archive; it remains accessible, is not in danger of being lost in transit and suffers no wear and tear. Microfilm strips and microfiches can be mailed in simple envelopes at low postage rates which allow of airmail transmission. A cost comparison shows that in many cases the production and mailing of a micro-copy is decidedly less expensive than sending and returning the originals. This is especially true for short articles from bulky volumes of periodicals. [3]

    (II) Preservation of Unique and Rare Documents: In 1904, a terrible fire which destroyed more than half the manuscripts of the National Library of Turin, focused attention on the problem of the preservation of unique and rare material. At the Congress International pour la Reproduction des Manuscripts, des Monnaies et des Sochaux, held at Liege in 1905, these problems were discussed and the establishment of photographic laboratories in all libraries and archives was recommended.

    In 1956, UNESCO set up a special mobile microfilm unit which visits many countries ‘to microfilm the books, documents and other cultural material in danger of destruction or which is irreplaceable, to train technicians of the country in the handling of microfilm, and demonstrate to the authorities the advantages of having a national microfilm office to carry out the country’s international cultural exchanges.

    (III) The Preservation of Deteriorating Documents: The rapid deterioration of modern printing paper presents a grave problem for librarians. Not only does the cheap wood-pulp paper of the type used for newspapers disintegrate rapidly, but even paper which is considered to be of good quality soon loses its strength and may deteriorate within a few decades Books and periodicals which have become unusable or unbindable owing to the deterioration of the paper can often be replaced by a photographic reproduction.

    (IV) Archiving Periodicals: One of the most rapidly growing sections in most archives is the collection of periodicals, and this involves high storage costs every year. But older volumes of periodicals are infrequently used, and the binding of some periodicals, and especially newspapers, is excessively expensive. To counter this, some types of serials, in particular newspapers, replaced by micro-copies after a few years. Some publishers of microforms specialize in the distribution of micro-copies of periodicals and newspapers.

    (V) Publications in Microform: Microphotographs are a convenient medium for publication and for re-publication in small editions. Microphotographs of out-of-print books and back numbers of periodicals can be of great use, particularly to young archives in building up resources which would otherwise be unobtainable or too expensive.

Storage and Preservation of Microphotographs

    (I)  Storage: As all forms of microphotographs may reach the modern library, the system for handling them must be as flexible as possible. None the less, certain basic principles must be applied.

    Microphotographs should always be stored in steel cabinets. Those intended for public use should be kept as near as possible to the reading room. The filing cabinets should not be exposed to the direct rays of the sun or any heat source. The room temperature need not be maintained within close limits, but the relative humidity should be kept between 40 and 60%.[4]

    Microphotographs intended for archival purposes should be stored in a special air-conditioned room; temperature should be in the range of 16 – 27 Degrees Celsius (60-80F), preferably near 21 Degrees C. (70 F.), and relative humidity between 40 and 50%. [5] The air should be filtered and kept free from injurious gases (especially hydrogen sulphide and sulphur dioxide). The air should be circulated under slight pressure, and the steel cabinets in which the micro- photographs are stored must provide free access of air. Microphotographs which are not used regularly have to be inspected at least once every five years, and copies should then be made of any photograph which has suffered damage.

    (II) Ordering and Accessioning: The ordering and accessioning is one of the most important steps in the acquisition of microphotographic records. When acquiring microforms already in existence the choice of variant is limited. Where a choice exists, the archive should concentrate on one form and try to acquire as much as possible in that form. When commissioning microphotographs, either in a laboratory attached to the archive or with an outside contractor, the best possible original must be provided. It should always be accompanied by a carefully typed or printed title for reproduction at the beginning of the micro-copy.

    On receipt, microphotographs should be checked for quality, and libraries should not hesitate to return any poor copy. Today, practically all microfilms are on safety film, but great care should be taken to exclude films on inflammable nitrate cellulose base from library collections.

   (III) Cataloguing: The catalogue entry of a publication in microform should be identical with that of the original. The first supplementary note should indicate the microform and whether it is a positive or negative copy, e.g. ‘Microfiche of typewritten manuscript. Positive’. For positive copies the location of the negative should be indicated, if known. On the catalogue card of microphotographs of rare material such as manuscripts, etc., reference should be made to the original and its location.

    (IV) Filing systems: Microfilms on reels are best kept in standard cardboard boxes which are filed upright in suitable drawers. Short lengths of microfilm up to 3 metres (10 ft.) can be kept in round boxes of plastic material. Microfilm strips should be inserted in transparent jackets to protect them against dust and finger prints.

    (V) Reading apparatus: Microphotographs are usually borrowed by readers on conditions similar to those for borrowing full-size publications. As special equipment is needed for reading microphotographs, the user will generally read micro-copies in the reading room, and he expects suitable equipment to be at his disposal. There are two essentially different types of reading apparatus, one for transparent microphotographs and one for micro-opaque cards. [6]

    (VI) Handling of Slides:  Transparencies will normally be numbered in accession order. The cataloguing has to be adapted to the special character of the collection. The captions of slides may be typed on archive catalogue cards and filed in catalogue drawers. Cross-references may be made by means of added entries. It is preferable, however, to use a copy of the slide itself in the catalogue. This can be achieved when the slides in cardboard mounts are systematically arranged in special frames taking up to ten slides (2 x5) each.

    (VII) The Photographic Laboratory: The question whether a library should have its own photographic laboratory has been discussed by several authors. It is certainly true that a small-size photographic laboratory with its modest equipment cannot work as efficiently as a commercial firm specializing in this field. However, other aspects must be considered besides the costs involved.

    The whole advantage of the use of microphotographs to replace inter-library loan breaks down if the publications have first to be sent to a commercial firm, which usually cannot deliver the work in less than 2 days. Furthermore, once an item leaves the library it suffers wear in transit and there is always the risk of loss. [7]

    Obviously, the safety of rare or unique material can best be ensured in a laboratory under the direct control of the library. These intangible advantages, which are hard to express in terms of money, may well introduce real savings which more than compensate the lower commercial price of the mass-produced article. Many libraries consider photographic reproduction as an inconvenient obligation to produce copies at special request. On the other hand, those archives which wish to take full advantage of all the creative possibilities of micro- photography are advised to install their own photographic laboratory. [8]

[1] Alfred Gunther; Op. cit; p. 11.

[2] Ibid; p. 11.

[3] Alfred Gunther; Op. cit; p. 11.

[4] Alfred Gunther; Op. cit; p. 12-15.

[5] Ibid; p. 15.

[6] Alfred Gunther; Op. cit; p. 15.

[7] Ibid; p. 17.

[8] Alfred Gunther; Op. cit; p. 17.