Decades of untapped documents

Unbeknownst to many IU Southeast students, thousands of miniature research documents sit largely unused in the library

Kaitlyn Lynn, staff reporter

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IU Southeast has many forms of technology available to students and faculty on campus. One piece of technology accessible is a microfilm machine, located on the ground floor of the library next to the 3D printing room.

“The microfilm machine is used for reading documents on microfilm and microfiche,”  said coordinator of electronic resources Kate Moore. “Microfilm and microfiche generally last longer because they are more durable than the print versions. Newspaper usually becomes brittle and fragile after a few years.”

Pictured above, the microfilm is a long strip of miniature documents. Photo by Kaitlyn Lynn.

At IU Southeast, students, faculty and community members have free access to the microfilm machine and  hundreds of rolls of microfilm of The Courier Journal and the Indy Star.

“I think the main thing is that you have access you wouldn’t have otherwise,” said Dean of school of social sciences and associate professor of history Kelly Ryan. “It’s a little more difficult to use but when you have to read everything it can be easier than a computer when you are scrolling through.”

Students’ advantage in using this machine is mostly historical research, though students can also look into the past and study older articles they otherwise may not have access to.

“I’ve used it when I was working on a book and had film sent to me of court records from the 18th century,” Ryan said. “It was convenient because it was right here.”

The IU Southeast microfilm machine in the library. Photo by Kaitlyn Lynn.

The microfilm machine has the ability to provide access to documents that have not been digitized or are not freely accessible in digital form.

“It provides access to older, valuable articles that aren’t available,” said assistant professor of history Elizabeth Gritter. “There’s a gold mine that isn’t digitized yet.”

The microfilm machine creates a field of resources that withstand the length of time.

“I’ve used [the microfilm machine] professionally. I worked on a historical marker project, we will eventually have a historical marker here at IUS for who was believed to be our first student, Lyda Radford,” Gritter said. “She was an African American woman and she took courses in education. Those records where only available in the Louisville Courier Journal.”

The use of microfilm has helped preserve an archive of documents. Its function is to reproduce print documents in a way that reduces space. This eliminates the bulkiness of newspapers or paper files and allows more information to be stored conveniently with easier access.

“Preservation of online resources is still a concern for libraries, though there are initiatives to maintain archival digital copies of online documents,” Moore said. “An example of this is LOCKSS, Lots of Copies Keep Stuff Safe which started at Stanford University.”