Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Is taking photos of microfilm a good or bad practice, what do you think?

How do you feel about using digital cameras to copy documents at a library? I see people pulling their cameras out and snapping photos of microfilm documents at the Library of Virginia more and more frequently.  I never liked the practice and always felt that the library probably needed the money from copies to survive.  At $0.75 each, that could add up quickly.  Every photo snapped felt to me like someone was stealing from the library, three quarters at a time.

Well, I threw this topic out on Facebook and a few people responded.  Some felt that taking photos was disrespectful, both to the library and to fellow patrons, especailly if a flash was used.  Others felt that snapping photos was more efficent and produced better-quality images.  With this debate in mind, I went to the state archives this weekend and asked three reference librarians what they thought on both a personal and professional level; if the library had an official stance.  I was honestly surprised at their answers.

It turns out that the Library of Virginia has no problem with anyone taking photos of anything in the public section(s) of the facility.  You can photograph books, paintings, microfilm, etc. (as long as there is no sign posted that trumphs that policy for a particular item).  You can even photograph items from the closed stacks, if they can be called down and used in the public areas of the library.  What cannot be photographed are items in special collections, that have to be used in a secure portion of the facility.  These items generally have contractual copyright protection.

To my surprise, the librarians actually encourage the use of digital cameras.  They said that the cost of maintaining the copy machines is much higher than the $0.75 they charge per copy.  It is actually in the library's best interest for you not to make copies.  As long as you do not use a flash, you are free to take all the pictures that you want.  I still don't feel right about it but I am going to have to give it a try.  I will be curious to see how well they turn out.

Maybe you can ask around at your local library or state archives and see how they feel?  I would be intereted to know if all facilities are as open to cameras as the one in Virginia.


Apple said...

I photographed the letter collection my family donated to the University of Michigan's, Bentley Historical Library. There were unwilling to photocopy such a large collection. In three days I took 3300 images. The librarians there were quite helpful and even offered some tips on how to photograph curled or torn letters without further damaging them. I picked a table with good light and away from other researchers.

Anonymous said...

I used my camera at the Library of Va to copy a chancery case that was well over 100 pages. It was great, since it would have taken months if the library copied if for me (they only copy so many pages in the record room per day per person).

I still make real copies on my direct line for deeds, wills, etc but when doing work on other lines, it has been great to use my camera. [Remember to turn off the flash when using the mircofilm machines to keep the bounce back on the white boards down.]


cheekygnome said...

After visiting many times in the past only to find that I've gotten there on a day where the microfilm copiers are spitting out extremely poor copies I would certainly have no problem personally with someone taking photos.

GrannyPam said...

I have photographed images in microfilm screens for many years. Since I find it to be a good way to save time and take perfect notes. Also, I could probably not spend the amount of money required to buy copies of everything I have photographed.

I ask the rules about cameras when I enter a facility.

Cameras are not allowed in most courthouses, so I buy the copies there, or extract the information I need.

John said...

The microfilm machines at my library (St. Louis, MO) cost only a quarter. The one time I tried taking a photograph, it didn't come out, I think due to the flash.

Now the library has installed several machines where you can bring in a USB flash drive, and 'print' the microfilm directly to an image file. They don't charge anything for that.