Using microfilm at the library

Close-up image of microfilm in a microfilm reader.Microfilm & microfilm readers

Microfilm is photographic film used to record miniaturized images on sheets or reels. Often these are images of pages from newspapers and magazines. The reels of film use less space than the original items (for example, 50 years of Sports Illustrated on film takes up the same space as 1 year of the paper magazine, and the boxes of microfilm can fit in one small drawer). To read the microscopic images on film, you use a microfilm reader which enlarges them for you.

Two digital microfilm readers are located at Central Library. These readers offer many new options for editing and saving images from microfilm, including the ability to crop, enhance images and add notes.

Digital microfilm machines at Central Library.So, what kinds of magazines and newspapers does the library have on microfilm?

All sorts! Here is a selection of historic gems that are available at Central Library for your micro-perusing:

  • The Black Panther, 1968 to 1980
  • Harper’s, 1963-2013
  • Macworld, 1984 to 2005
  • Reader’s Digest, 1922 to 2013
  • TV Guide, 1953 to 1994
  • and many, many more!

In addition to national publications like the ones listed above, Central Library also has a large collection of local newspapers on microfilm, including the Oregon Journal, The Oregonian, The Portland Telegram and the Willamette Week. For more information about searching in local newspapers, take a look at the blog post “Research with historical Portland newspapers, beyond the Oregonian.”

Microfilm readers are also located at the Gresham and Sellwood libraries. These locations have smaller collections of microfilm materials which are specific to their communities like The Gresham Outlook and The Sellwood Bee.

Newspaper article about the Grateful DeadA couple of notes before you begin your micro-searching:

  1. When you use microfilm, it is like browsing through a big stack of newspapers or magazines arranged by date. If you don’t know the exact date for the article that you are seeking, you might need to use an index (usually this index is a book or an online resource) to look it up.
  2. Some magazines and newspapers are only available on microfilm at the library, but many are also available through the library’s online databases. These databases can sometimes be a better choice for your searching.

Remember, you can always Ask a Librarian and we will be happy to help you find the information or articles that you need!

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