While the smell of musty paper and the sound of flicking pages is one of the most endearing qualities of a library, an increasing number of establishments are choosing to go digital. Across the globe a myriad of lending and reference libraries are beginning to digitise microfilm collections in a bid to safeguard against damage and enhance availability. Tennessee’s John C. Hodges Library is at the forefront of the trend, kick-starting the daunting task of digitising the 4,000 feet of physical materials that exist within its extensive archives.
The project is a page by page process that’s captured the attention of worldwide media due to its sheer scale. Some of the documents date back to 1841 which means the collection encompasses almost 200 years of history! Alesha Shumar is the university’s official archivist, saying, “Within the university archives, we actively collect published and unpublished works by students, faculty, departments, programs, research centers and institutes on campus.”
Of course, a systematic approach is essential, with the most heavily requested material elevated to the top of the scanning priority list. “At this time, we are making available born digital archival material as well as scanning our most heavily requested physical material from the archives,” says Shumar.
Knox County Public Library is another US establishment getting on-board the digital archiving bandwagon. Mary Pom Claiborne, director of marketing and community relations asserts that the library is currently in the process of converting its microfilm newspaper into digital format. This will eliminate the risk of deterioration as well as offer local researchers access to historic documents, at their fingertips.
“Right now, the only way to view old newspapers would be to come down to a place like the library or the library at UT or ETSU and view the microfilm through the computers that we have,” says Claiborne.
Digitisation will also make the search process fast and efficient, featuring a variety of search parameters including dates, events and themes. “If you’re looking for more general information — like what Knoxville fashion was like in the 1950s — you can now search for that information and look at ads in the newspaper from that time,” she adds.
The benefits of digitalising microfilm collections are immense, however the process is not cheap. The average cost sits at around 65 cents a page which means fundraising is always a popular option for both academic, state and independent libraries. Tracking down the best deals on professional scanning services is also an essential part of making funds stretch as far as possible.
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