An end to a historial lens

The multimedia center at Maag library, which stored vinyl, CDs and DVDs, was also downsized after its subject specialist retired. Photo courtesy of Rebecca Moore

By Christopher Gillett

The William F. Maag Jr. Library will be phasing out its microform collections after the spring 2023 semester because of low interest, staff retirements and expenses. Microforms are historical documents that have been copied onto technological photographs. They can come in film-looking reels called microfilm or flat plastic-gridded sheets called microfiche. 

Microforms hold old newspapers, literature, advertisements and government records. Many items stored in Maag’s microform collections are already found at other institutions and in other mediums. Christine Adams, a co-director and the head of academic research and support at Maag Library, said that other academic and public libraries are phasing out their collections.

“We speak monthly — in meetings — with other academic library deans and directors from all the other Ohio institutions, and we have discussed this with them,” Adams said. “They all have significantly cut their microfilm because they all say it is not used. It is not what students today are used to dealing with.”

Interest in microforms at Maag has been low for the last few fiscal years. The 2019-2020 year was the highest with 24 questions on microforms. The current fiscal year has only seen one microform question for the library. 

Alongside struggling to garner interest, Maag’s microform librarian and subject specialist retired. Rebecca Moore, the manager of information literacy and assessment at Maag library, said the library has had trouble with staff shortages.

“The loss of every person here is really difficult,” Moore said. “Staffing has really, really gone down. It can be difficult just to keep the building open sometimes. Whenever someone retires it’s a big deal for us.”

Ana Torres, a co-director and the head of library services and operations at Maag, said the microform equipment’s age makes upkeep expensive.

“The equipment is older, so the concern is also the replacement costs of the equipment,” Torres said. “The public library, who we collaborate with, has much better equipment, more equipment and they have dedicated staff.”

The last time the library spent money on the microforms collection was 2016, and cost around $12,000. Moore said downsizing is important to any library.

“Weeding collection development is a major part of the health of any library. Things come in. Things go out. We don’t have room for everything,” Moore said. “Another chore would be to go through and see how much of that stuff has been migrated into the database and is therefore redundant.”

The current microforms will be donated to other libraries and organizations when the time comes. The most commonly used microfilm collections are the New York Times and the Vindicator, which are also at the Public Library of Youngstown and the Mahoning Valley. Students can still request items at Maag through inter-library loans. 

Many of the historical documents are also found through other online and physical mediums. Despite that, Moore said she thought that information could be lost when using the internet.

“I just hate to rely on a private company’s largesse for all our information,” Moore said. “[With] microfilm, the entire page is here, the advertisement, the pictures [and] everything that’s in a newspaper is faithfully duplicated right here.”

Until the end of the semester, the Microform collections can be viewed on the third floor of the William F. Maag Jr. Library. Any questions can be directed to Torres and Adams at their emails, [email protected] and [email protected] respectively.