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Microfilming Preserves S.C. History
by Allen Stokes
The South Caroliniana Library has been preserving newspapers, manuscripts, and other records by microfilming for just over a half century. Harvey Teal, who worked as a student assistant at the library while attending the University of South Carolina as a veteran after World War II, recalls several occasions when the Kodak MRD camera was disassembled and transported to Clemson, Charleston, and Leesburg, Va., to film the John C. Calhoun Papers, the records of the German Fellowship Society, and the Hugh Swinton Legare Papers. The library's ancient Kodak camera served us well for many years and remained in use until it was replaced about ten years ago.
Today the library's microfilming operations are located in an offsite facility which also houses Modern Political Collections and the records of the University Archives. The library currently has three cameras devoted to microfilming South Carolina newspapers and other records. The cameras are operated by two staff microfilm technicians and student assistants. During 1998 180 rolls of film were produced during eleven months of operation. Filming stopped in May when the micrographics laboratory at the State Records Center moved to the new South Carolina Archives and History Center. In 1998, South Caroliniana Library produced 180 rolls of film during eleven months of operation.
Microfilm produced by the South Caroliniana Library must meet the quality control standards of the Archives and History Center's micrographics division in order for the microfilm to be processed and stored in the facility's vault. The library receives a duplicate negative and positive copy of the microfilm for reader use. Film produced by the library is also available on interlibrary loan.
Updates on the current status of the United States Newspaper Program are available online for each of the fifty states and the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.
Visit the homepage of the National Endowment for the Humanities.
The library's microfilming program focuses on current South Carolina newspapers, backfiles of newspapers, and such long-term projects as filming the 19th-century records of the university. The library also works with local libraries, historical societies, and churches to preserve their records by microfilming. In many instances these projects involve merging holdings of the South Caroliniana Library with those of another library. In 1998 the library completed filming the Twin-City News (Batesburg-Leesville) from 1924 to the present. While there are some gaps in the collection that were not available at the time of the filming, the value of the project was enhanced by merging the holdings of the Caroliniana, the Batesburg-Leesville branch of the Lexington County Library, and the publisher of the Twin-City News. Recent filmings of church records include Trinity Episcopal Cathedral and the Edisto Island Presbyterian Church.
Yellowed Journalism:Brittle, acidic newspapers will not long survive handling if circulated regularly in the original format.
The American Enterprise,
published by W. M. Webster
at Cowpens, S.C.
Microfilming perserves the information for the future.
The library currently films twenty-five South Carolina newspapers that are not available from commercial vendors. These titles include weeklies, bi-weeklies, and dailies and cover all areas of the state. Titles include the Beaufort Gazette, Press and Standard (Walterboro), Dispatch-News (Lexington), Marlboro Herald-Advocate (Bennettsville), Gaffney Ledger, and Keowee Courier (Walhalla). In 1997 the library received several hundred volumes of 19th-century South Carolina newspapers from the Library of Congress. Some of the titles are new to the collection; others fill in gaps in our holdings. By agreement with the Library of Congress, the library will microfilm the collection and provide copies of the microfilm to the Library of Congress. Among the titles filmed to date are the Charleston Tri-Weekly Courier and the Charleston Mercury (tri-weekly edition) spanning the years of the Civil War.
With the support of the NEH, the South Carolina Newspaper Project (1991-1995) significantly accelerated the microfilming of fragile materials.
Today, the library preserves tens of thousands of pages each year.
The South Carolina Newspaper Project, which was funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities from 1991 through 1995, provided a significant impetus to the library's microfilming program. Newspaper holdings in South Carolina were entered into a national database, and the South Caroliniana Library's holdings were incorporated into the university's online catalog. The additional staff and student personnel that were hired with the grant funds enabled the library to accelerate the pace of filming for the period of the grant. Even today, although we do not have the funding and personnel resources provided by the grant, the information gathered during the South Carolina Newspaper Project is important in planning and scheduling filming projects.
Fifty years from now, microfilm may not be the format by which newspapers, documents, and published materials are preserved. I cannot offer an opinion as to whether it will remain a preservation medium, but at least for the present it is the accepted preservation medium and at the South Caroliniana Library tens of thousands of pages are preserved each year. Given the deterioration of these materials from constant use and the inferior quality of paper, much of the material being microfilmed today would not otherwise survive another fifty years.
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