Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Microfilming: A Meticulous Preservation Process

Someone said that “today’s activity is tomorrow’s history.” That is certainly true at the Microfilming Department at the Hoover Institution, where we preserve documents for future reference. Over the years, many people who have visited our lab, whether they had used microfilm before or not, said they had never realized what a thorough process microfilming was. As a result of witnessing our work, they appreciated and had a better understanding of microfilming as a meticulous preservation process.

I won’t go into the many technical details in this short article, and even though preservation and access go hand-in-hand, I will deal only with preservation here. I will begin with the preparation aspects of the process.

Ideally, all the documents should be ready to be microfilmed when they come to our lab. There are times, however, when we have to do some document preparation before filming, including removing fasteners, staples, paper clips, pushpins, etc. Depending on the age of the documents, the fasteners may be old and rusty (first photo below). We don’t use staple removers (second photo) to remove the metal fasteners, since they could leave marks. Instead, we use micro-spatulas and other tools (third photo). Once the metal fasteners are removed, we replace them with plastic clips (fourth photo). Finally, the documents are ready to be microfilmed.

To give you an idea of the extent of the preparation, the following photos show the number of fasteners removed from 110 boxes from September 2009 through mid-March 2010. Their total weight came to 2.866 pounds. (The total number of each type of fasteners was approximated by weighing all the removed fasteners and approximating the percentage of each type from the total.) The breakdown is as follows:

Each metal paper clip weighed 0.0881 ounces. There are 500-600 metal paper clips. Each pushpin weighed 0.0352 ounces. There are 150-250 pushpins. Ten staples weighed 0.0352 ounces. There are 2,000-25,000 staples.

I hope you can now appreciate all the work that goes into microfilming.

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