Microfilm Quality Control: Or, What Can Possibly Go Wrong?

Greetings, all!

Last week, we provided an update on the re-filming the Nome Nugget. To delve a bit deeper in the topic, I’d like to share some background on the process of filming newspaper- specifically, what we look for in controlling the quality of newspaper images.

Human Error

When looking through microfilm, an occasional, unexpected sight appears:

microfilm invader

(Photo credit: Historical Tennessee Newspapers on Pinterest)

Hands and fingers secure pages when shooting an image, and at worst can cover text in an image and make it difficult to read. This problem is not limited to newspapers, however. Eagle-eyed readers on Google Books have compiled several instances of imaging tech’s fingers, such as these ones:

tumblr_n0lb28U6ED1qixa76o1_1280

Photo credit: The Art of Google Books Tumblr

Some of these errors are linked to the need to speed up production, at the expense of overall image quality. (The Google Books project has its share of images that document unexpected findings within its digital pages: theartofgooglebooks.tumblr.com)

Moire

Have you ever tried to take a photo of something on a computer screen? If so, then you’re familiar with the pattern that appears in these images:

moirenewspaper

There’s a name for that effect: Moire. It’s a pattern formed by two sets of parallel lines slightly distorted:

Moiré_pattern.svg

(Photo credit: Wikimedia commons)

This term is also used in the world of fashion as a type of effect with fabric often seen in silk and damask worn in portraits of noblemen and women.

In addition, another type of fabric, called shot silk, combines two colors, one on the warp (the top of the weave) another on the weft (the side of the weave), to create a color-changing effect depending on where the light hits it:

Salzburg_Mattes_2013-08-03_(31)

Photo credit: Wikimedia commons

Similarly, when taking a photo of a computer screen, frequencies create a visual effect.

When images are filmed on the Book Eye or the Mekel microfilming machine, they are filmed without a digital interface, and therefore without the moire effect.

Book/Newspaper errors

These errors pose an interesting question: when filming, how much of the actual document should people see? For instance, filmed fingers on pages or handwritten marginalia or entire articles cut out allows the reader to view the document not as a newspaper in a vacuum, but as a copy that others have held and read in the past.

We at the National Digital Newspaper Project do our best to provide newspaper images from original microfilm- and many times the images show marginalia on the pages (usually to correct the dates or issue numbers). One could argue that these errors recreate an experience we’re more accustomed to when dealing with physical objects: stains, marginalia, bookmarks, and even pressed flowers come into play in this digital format. More often than not, an actual person is the one opening the pages and shooting the images. These errors, then, allow us to see the human side of the process.

Many thanks to The Art of Google Books (http://theartofgooglebooks.tumblr.com/) and to Historic Tennessee Newspapers on Pinterest (https://www.pinterest.com/historictnnews/microfilm-invaders/) !

Stay tuned for next week’s post on newspaper as a preservation priority!

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