Friday, March 16, 2012

Microfilm & "copies on demand"

If you were fascinated by microfilm, you should take a look at Eugene B. Power’s Edition of one : the autobiography of Eugene B. Power founder of University Microfilms (Ann Arbor, MI : University Microfilms International, 1990). In his autobiography, he recounts not only the history of microfilm, but the idea of ‘copies on demand’, printing out a copy of a book, dissertation, or other type of publication when the patron asked for it.  What I find most fascinating about Power’s idea of ‘copies on demand’ is that publishing companies have adopted that model and it is actively mimicked today. Just look at Google Books on demand, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and others who offer to print out a book for you even if it is not currently in print. Streaming video and audio follows the same basic principle, as do digital downloads of e-books and e-audiobooks. Eugene Power’s 1930s idea is still alive and well in this century and into the foreseeable future.


I'm a big fan of microfilm and microfiche as a preservation tool and as a method of accessing older materials. There's a lot of microfilm in our cultural institutions. While microfilm has been displaced by digital resources, there are still many titles that survive only in this film based format. If you have not used microfilm, check it out. Every librarian and archivist should know how to use the machines and to navigate this medium. I'll leave my ruminations about microfilm here, because I have more to say to my preservation students this summer about the topic.

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