Preservation Microfilming

The New York Public Library has a long and rich history of inhouse preservation microfilming, originating in the 1930s. It’s focus has been to capture the intellectual content of a wide range of at-risk collection materials such as newspapers, serials, books, periodicals, pamphlets, manuscripts, music scores, and other special collections.

Staff in the Preservation Microfilming unit capture information contained in library materials by photographing the items and producing durable, high-quality films that extend the public’s long-term access to these collection items. The Library’s in-house microfilm lab adheres to American National Standards Institute (ANSI) and Research Libraries Group (RLG) best practices for microfilm production, duplication and storage.

Historically, the microfilming program has supported curatorial requests for original filming and more recently has focused on duplicating its collection. The Library continues to offer copies of its extensive collection items that have been preserved on microfilm.  Microfilm copies are available for purchase in the form of duplicate negatives and viewable, positive microfilm format. Purchase requests can be made through the Microfilm Requests page.

Newspapers are printed on inexpensive, poor quality, ground wood pulp paper containing high levels of acid. They are especially at risk of rapid deterioration; discoloration and fragility may become apparent after a few months. For this reason, The Library has been filming newspapers for decades, and was one of the first libraries in the country to participate in the United States Newspaper Program (USNP), which was funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH). The USNP is a long-term cooperative national effort to locate, catalog, and preserve on microfilm U.S.-published newspapers from the eighteenth century to the present. The Library is a national newspaper repository and has microfilmed approximately two million pages and cataloged 7,000 titles with over $1 million in support from the NEH.

The Library has participated in numerous consortial and commercial microfilm digitization partnerships. One major project is the Library’s contribution to the National Digital Newspaper Program funded by the NEH and sponsored by the Library of Congress. The Library represented the State of New York as one of the founding participants in 2005. Participating in three grant cycles, the Library digitized nearly 400,000 pages of microfilm of two major newspapers for long-term access through Chronicling America: the New York Evening World, issues from 1887 to 1922, and the New York Sun, issues from 1859 to 1920 (which eventually became the Sun and New York Herald after a series of merger-related title changes).

The vast microfilm collection created at the Library has been produced and stored in compliance with industry standards and best practices, and will endure as serviceable resources for hundreds of years to come.