Friday, May 21, 2010

Fresh Technologies: Digital Microfilm

With the possible exception of the admirable Sonia of our Reference team, most people really hate dealing with microfilm. Being forced to schlep into the library, find a reel, spool it to the right spot, and then straining to read it or line up a proper copy image, is considered a major hassle. That's one of the reasons that Sawyer Library has--for many years--provided free microfilm copying. Your suffering does not include additional expense at this particular library when it comes to using microfilm or microfiche.

However, here is some good news: The major purveyor and producer of microfilm serials in this country, ProQuest (formerly UMI), has just released a new online means of providing digital images of newspapers and journals and they call it Digital Microfilm.

The major advantage to Digital Microfilm is that, like our other online resources, it is available to Suffolk users 24/7 from wherever you have an internet connection. We currently have three titles available on digital microfilm--Barron's, Wall Street Journal, and the Boston Globe. As you can tell from the OPAC pages that I've linked to, these are publications that we often have in a multiplicity of formats. But although the article content for, say, the Globe, might be available in databases like Massachusetts Newsstand, if you wanted to see advertising, illustrations and the like, you'd need an actual image and not just an html reproduction of the fulltext. This is the type of thing that our digital microfilm will be good at providing.

This cover-to-cover digital image becomes even more important for those who want to see, for example, the stock and other security pricing provided in tables of the Wall Street Journal, since the ProQuest current database for the WSJ doesn't include anything but article text, while the "Historical Newspapers" coverage only comes as far as 1992!

So, Digital Microfilm (which we have 2008 to date) will fill in some coverage gaps for those needing the actual image of the publication in question.

To use the digital microfilm, first click on the link from the online catalog entry for your publication. This will bring you to a plain page that relays you to our account (click the link if the connection is not automatically made).

The interface is still a bit clunky, so the next step is to click the blue word link to Select the publication you want. Another widow will open to the side with the three papers listed. Pick the one you are looking for. The publication name will move to the search form, then select the year, month and day.

As I've indicated, this interface is still a work in progress. I have found that as you step through the year/month/day process, you may get ahead of the product, so do this slowly. And the digital reader seems to disappear when you minimize the imaging tool to work in another window. Although printing is easy to do, since the original page is usually a large one, you may have to change the print specs or use a magnifier on the small page image when you print! Experiment with adjustable aspects like brightness, contrast, and magnification to get an image that works for you. Consult the help guide for more assistance.

Another shortfall of the product is that it is slow to be produced. People expect digital products to be instant gratification, but there is a two to five month delay in the date-load of these publications. And the biggest downside to digital microfilm is that it is really not a "database." There is no keyword or other search mechanism in the Reader. (The PDF form has a search box but it does not work, so do not think that a "No Matches" result means your word string isn't in the paper.) This really is like a (dumb) microfilm reader in cyberspace. So come to the microfilm with a citation, or be willing to scroll through the thumbnails and pages to get to what you want.

I don't want to "bad-mouth" this breakthrough too much. For most people it will be a tremendous improvement in convenience and ease of use over the traditional reel storage material. So take advantage of Digital Microfilm when the need arises.

1 comment:

VickyMcC said...

I've been involved in newspaper OCR on the publishing end for years. Newspapers' columnar layouts make the PDF/OCR process extremely challenging, so the current--and constantly improving--access is really quite an amazing accomplishment.

One little-known but complex undertaking by Proquest has been to integrate the digitization process with a newspaper's legacy indexing.

Prominent newspapers often have rich subject indexes in print that would be a tremendous boon to searching, but they're proprietary and often limited to internal use. Some of them go back a hundred years or more.

Proquest has achieved a significant milestone in integrating the historic print indexes (1913- )of the New York Times with its digitized microfilm. The benefits are obvious -- subject searching from controlled vocabularies across the decades.

It's a difficult and expensive process, but one that we would hope will eventually extend to other titles. As libraries and consumers come to understand the limitations of free-text search in an overloaded information environment, there will be enough of a market to justify this adding this kind informational value to digitized papers.

Vicky McCargar, M.A., MLIS