At the Center for the History of Rural Iowa Education and Culture, we have an assortment of records that provide snapshots of moments in Iowa’s history of education. Our records are available in three formats: physical, microfilm, and microfiche. This past summer I was involved in the process of inventorying the microfilm collection. Having spent a significant amount of time with the collection, I have become a microfilm connoisseur of sorts. Before this experience, I had only used microfilm once or twice for research projects at the undergraduate level. As I went through the reels of various Iowa counties, I was surprised at the quality, or actually, the lack thereof.
Upon the closure of Iowa’s rural schools, all records were sent to the proper area education agencies for microfilming and storage. As indicated by a signed form at the beginning of most reels, the agencies were given permission to destroy the physical records after they had been microfilmed. This means, many of the microfilm records we possess are the only surviving copies of the records. Although the majority of our microfilm collection was processed efficiently and is easily readable, the lack of quality control executed by some microfilm technicians leaves some records less than desirable.
Blurry and crooked records, close-up photos of hands – and faces – can prevent easy viewing. In very rare cases, sections of microfilm are completely unreadable; however, features on View Scan are able to fix most clarity issues. Utilization of the zoom, contrast, brightness, and sharpness tools can improve quality, just as the straighten image feature can fix haphazard images. At the Iowa Rural School Archive, we are unable to restore the records to their original conditions, but we are taking preservation measures to ensure safekeeping. All microfilm reels are being stored in archival quality boxes that will allow records to be available for multiple generations of researchers.