The Abbey Newsletter

Volume 18, Number 4-5
Aug-Sep 1994


RLG Archives Microfilming Manual. Nancy Elkington, ed. Research Libraries Group, Mountain View, 1994. 218 pp. Spiral bound, stiff covers. $45 plus shipping & handling from Distribution Services Center, RLG, 1200 Villa St., Mountain View, CA 94041-1100. E-mail BL.DSC@RLG.STANFORD.EDU. Fax 415/964-0943.

Reviewed by Richard M. Harrington, Assistant State Archivist for Information Imaging, The Library of Virginia

The new Research Libraries Group (RLG) Archives Microfilming Manual (hereafter referred to as the Manual) is a recent addition to the literature on microfilming techniques and follows RLG's 1992 publication titled Preservation Microfilming Handbook. In the age of digitization and computer output to laser disk (COLD), it seems rather antiquated to be reviewing a manual on microfilming. However, the Manual does fill a niche in the marketplace for an area that has not received much attention, and is a major addi-tion to the bibliography of the specialized field of preservation microfilming. It follows in the footsteps of earlier publications such as William Hawken's Copying Methods Manual (1966), the Library of Congress's Specifications for Microfilming Manuscripts (1980), and Nancy Gwinn's Preservation Microfilming: A Guide for Librarians and Archivists (1987, now under revision). The new Manual incorporates information garnered from research and practical experience over the past 10 years, and has corrected several items from the Preservation Microfilming Handbook, such as use of the Quality Index method for resolution and D-min for the master negative. It adds explanatory information, along with several new topics.

Both RLG publications contain much of the same information, which if combined, would offer to users a single source for preservation microfilming. As it is, the user could be confused by reference to various technical guidelines that appear in both volumes. Since these publications are not inexpensive, it would benefit the user to have them combined into a single source. In fact, combining Gwinn's book on preservation microfilming with both of these manuals would present a single "Bible" for the user to follow.

The Manual is the result of a National Endowment for the Humanities grant and collaboration among 15 contributors--all experts in their field. Several of the contributors, including the editor, Nancy E. Elkington, also helped author the Preservation Microfilming Handbook. Although this was an RLG manual, no major archives seem to have participated in the actual project. Perhaps this is a reflection of RLG's membership, but this reviewer finds it curious. Several universities, libraries, and a historical society are listed, all of which do have archival holdings.

Topics covered are "Managing an Archival Preservation Microfilming Project," "Choosing a Vendor and Contracting Out," "Bibliographic and Archival Control" and "Planning for the Future: Film Digitization," as well as the traditional aspects of preservation microfilming such as "Preparation of Materials," "Microfilming Archival Documents," "Inspection Issues and Routines" and "Postinspection Procedures."

The Manual includes an extensive set of appendices, figures, tables and forms with an adequate index to locate everything. The appendices not only discuss new topics but clarify in more detail the information presented in the text. One of the appendices is the bibliography of "Technical and Reference Resources," which lists most of the relevant articles, publications, and standards mentioned in the manual. In fact, for a first-time user, all this information may seem overwhelming. However, RLG's thoroughness in its approach and the information it supplies are to be commended. Although the Manual is intimidating at first glance, the user who follows the procedures and guidelines in it will be able to produce microfilm that meets current standards and that can be maintained for an indefinite time period.

It would be more convenient having the pages in a looseleaf three-ring binder format rather than the wire spiral provided; this would make it easier to add revisions/changes or comments.

There are several topics covered in the Manual that are invaluable to the end user and not available elsewhere. One of these topics is the Archives Preservation Microfilming Project Cost study. This appendix discusses the cost of filming archival collections based upon RLG's projects and examines the "challenges inherent in microfilming archival material."[1] Almost all the participants contracted with a vendor for actual microfilming services, which limited evaluation of all steps in microfilming, but this does not detract from the information that is supplied.

There are two phases to the study. Phase I used two-linear-foot samples from 14 institutions; Phase II collected actual expenditures at the end of the projects, which were then compared to earlier budget estimates. One of the conclusions of the study is that "the two expense categories that participating project managers noted were most often underestimated were preparation and inspection; this general sentiment is firmly reinforced by the data."[2]

Another topic discussed in the Manual is bibliographic and archival control. This is a very extensive chapter, covering the USMARC format as it relates to microfilm. The fields discussed are those used in cataloging microforms. This reviewer's institution does do some things differently than those suggested, but each institution has variations on a theme. For instance, the term "[microform]" is included at the end of every microform title. This makes it easier to pull up all microform copies. The 530 field is used only for additional physical forms of the microfilmed record, e.g., its availability in hard copy, its location and accession number, etc. The 533 field is used only for published microfilms. (Almost all of the microfilms in this reviewer's holdings are from in-house production and are unpublished.)

Restrictions on access and reproduction of microfilm are specifically stated by the donor or agency, and the restrictions in the 506 and 540 fields remain in force unless the donor specifies a time period. Designation of whether or not internal actions are allowed for public display is made by a Y (yes) or N (no) in the 583 field. Most of the time it is N because the public does not need to know about internal actions such as when the microfilm was described.

In the appendix covering "The Relationship Between Archival Appraisal and Selection for Preservation," it would be a worthwhile endeavor to create a joint planning committee within each institution comprised of both appraisal and preservation staff. Decisions could then be made jointly. "The ultimate goal... has been to help archivists identify records outside of archival custody or responsibility that have potential value because of their cultural significance or for their long-term administrative, legal, or financial uses."[3] Perhaps consideration should be given to forming a committee of individuals who respond to acquired materials and use a common form to report through E-mail in order to make a centralized database available to everyone. This would eliminate duplication of efforts in preservation and help to link collections with similar themes.

As in any new publication, there are a few items one can quibble over. In a discussion about gutter shadow the reader is told, "It may be lessened somewhat by periodically repositioning the book in the cradle during filming; however, it is often not possible to completely eliminate the shadow. Ideally, books with very tight bindings should be disbound before filming."4 Depending on the camera being used, you can reposition the lights in order to reduce the shadow. This works very well on the Kodak MRD-2 cameras and should be attempted before resorting to disbinding, which in some cases is not possible.

"RLG guidelines require that only ultrasonic splices be used on master negative film and that no splices occur in the second and third generations."[5] "There shall be no more than six splices per roll of first generation (1n) film."[6] RLG also states that different types of film base such as acetate and polyester are not to be spliced together. There are several other requirements concerning targets and number of images spliced out and replaced, which may not be possible to meet in some instances. For instance, many officials do preservation filming of the vital records in their offices. These records may see legal use and if splicing occurs within the film, a form is to be used that states the reason for the splice. This target must be filmed with the replacement documents and appear before them on the film. These same officials may film daily, which will generate more than six splices in a reel. Also, the above RLG guidelines do not take into consideration blipped film. There should be a section discussing this in both filming and splicing. Considerable preservation microfilming is being done with blipping in order to locate documents on the film using a computer-based index--especially with loose papers.

Regarding the statement about ultrasonic splicing, this remains a laudable but unrealistic requirement. Many institutions have both types of film, and usually the older film is acetate. If a splice must be done on the older film, the newer information or correction has usually been filmed on more recent polyester based film. Ultrasonic splicing does not lend itself to combining these two types of bases, which leaves a choice among only the remaining splicing tech-niques or retaining both film types separately. In addition, the cost of an ultrasonic splicer may be beyond the budget of many users. Of course, one could argue that those who cannot afford it should not be doing the filming, but in reality capturing deteriorating documents on film before they disappear may be a necessity.

In the discussion about duplicate film copies, nowhere is diazo film suggested for use as a user copy. Diazo film is considerably less expensive than silver, and is very durable in resisting scratches and environmental contaminants. Various types of diazo film are offered by manufacturers that accommodate wide density variations in the original silver negative. This latitude allows quality copies to be produced. In programs with a small budget, the cost savings combined with a quality image offer an excellent alternative to silver for the user.

The concluding chapter, "Planning for the Future: Film Digitization," introduces the topic of digitizing from film. After a brief introduction, film documentation and characteristics are discussed that directly affect a successful conversion project. These items range from the film type, size, orientation, resolution and density to condition of the film, spacing, contrast and image placement. Several institutions are going in the other direction, converting digital images to film. Although this may be more expensive, scanning from the original using enhancement techniques and then placing the enhanced image directly on film produces an excellent quality film image in either negative or positive polarity.

This publication admirably achieves the purpose for its creation and makes a lasting contribution to the genre. "By sharing their combined experiences, by taking this first step toward evolving standard practice in filming archival materials, this select group has advanced the international preservation microfilming agenda forward by a giant leap."[7]

Only time will tell if that leap is far enough. With the National Archives and Records Administration now accepting transfers of permanent records stored on Compact Disc-Read Only Memory (CD-ROM), can the use of this type of media for the capturing and storage of permanently valuable information be far behind? Digitization is the wave carrying society's heritage on its crest. Where it will lead is anyone's guess. The possibilities are infinite and like a prism reflecting light, the paths stretch forth in myriad directions--even to a manmade crystal containing billions of holographic images stored in individual planes within its interior. One thing is certain--the tide will not be turned back, nor will it be ignored by a public that only grudgingly accepts microfilm media.

1. Nancy E. Elkington, Editor, RLG Archives Microfilming Manual, p. 117.

2. Ibid., p. 186.

3. Ibid., p. 106.

4. Ibid., p. 72.

5. Ibid., p. 73.

6. Ibid., p. 115.

7. Ibid., p. ix.

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