Dying Media

A few weeks ago I was talking to a student about how the Digital Library Center grew out of the Preservation Department and its work in microfilming. The student asked me to explain what microfilm was because she’d heard of it, but didn’t know. I explained through older movies when people are researching crimes and go to the library and sit in front of a big screen and use a knob to flip through pages. Later on, I thought about how others unfamiliar with microfilm will need to know what microfilm is and why it’s important, so I went to YouTube to try and find an example. I found great “how to” videos like this one are available to help new users, but not fun clips from movies. I expected to find those clips from media studies classes doing media archaeology or research on dead media.

Is microfilm considered a dead media yet, or is it just waiting to be fully reborn in digital form? Given user preference it seems dead, but it can’t die because so much information only exists on microfilm. In fact, before the Digital Library Center began, preserving and sharing materials at the University of Florida was accomplished through microfilming. While microfilm is a tedious and unextensible form, many materials are on it that aren’t available in their original form or any other than the film. This is especially true of the masses of fragile materials like newspapers, where there’s simply too much to save it all in the original form given the sheer volume and given the high level of work needed because of the weak material type.

In honor of microfilm’s importance and it’s slow demise, these are some of the many cinematic moments that use microfilm to show research (on mysteries! on monsters):

  • Silence of the Lambs (1991)
  • The Amityville Horror (1979)
  • The Hand that Rocks the Cradle (1991)
  • The Changeling (1980)