Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Microfilm, paper, or CD?

Some of you may remember that long ago, on my other blog, I had a question about microfilming manuscripts. I still haven't resolved the issue with the longer and more important manuscript, which is in a somewhat obscure location (and which I'll be going back to visit again in person this summer, anyway), but I'm finally getting my act together in re: the manuscript at the British Library.

But now I have another question: a reproduction is apparently available in microfilm, paper, or CD copy. I'm assuming that the paper copy would actually be a copy from the microfilm, not directly from the manuscript itself, since the manuscript is bound--and I worked in a rare books library for two years, and we didn't, no way no how, photocopy anything that was rare and bound and would have to be smashed down on a glass paten. (But maybe they do things differently at the BL.)

So, any thoughts? I'm going to be transcribing this baby in its entirety, so clarity of reproduction is important. I kind of hate microfilm (although I've only dealt with it for print sources before), but if the quality is better than a paper copy, I should probably go with that. I also like the idea of having the document on a CD, but that would make transcription on a computer more difficult; I guess I'd have to bring my laptop into the office and transcribe off my desktop monitor.

(And if this makes any difference: the MS is in a mixed hand with some Secretary forms; the letter forms themselves are mostly consistent throughout, but the author has an atrocious, messy, slashing hand.)

Thanks in advance. . .

8 comments:

Dr M said...

I really like microfilm, I find it quite readable. I had to go through several reels last summer. Occasionally you'll get a bad copy but mostly it's accessible and usable. I've never worked with stuff on CD, I'm old school. Sounds like the paper might have problems. I would go with MF.

What Now? said...

Unlike Dr. M., I actually get motion-sick from reading microfilm, so that is the one format I would avoid.

My inclination would be to get the CD and then print out all the pages -- wasteful, I know -- and transcribe from the printed pages.

Dr. Virago said...

Hmmm...I'm guessing that the CD is a PDF file of the microfilm. And in the case of the MS I'm working with right now, the PDFs I've made myself aren't quite as clear as the microfilm itself. Same problem with the printouts of the microfilm. So I'd go with the microfilm, especially if your library has a microfilm reader that will make PDFs (as mine does) for your later home/office use.

Tiruncula said...

I get seasick from m'film too, but it is a very stable medium. For my own working purposes, I think I'd prefer digital images. Not paper. You want a medium in which you enlarge, focus, etc. to see as much as possible of what's there.

Tiruncula said...

Just saw what Dr. V. posted. Is it possible to find out whether the CD images are photographed from the ms or just pdfs from the m'film? If the latter, then I agree with Dr. V.: I'd definitely go for film.

Ancarett said...

The last time I got some material from the National Archives (early 16th century mss repros), I went with the print option. The large paper size was blissful. The quality of the reproduction, as much as they tried, was not. I'd go with either microfilm or digital.

Digital's especially good if it is a series of hi-res image files. I use my graphics-editing software (PaintShopPro) to tweak image files and find that I can drastically improve the readability by a judicious use of the Adjust Contrast/Brightness tool.

Anonymous said...

I also do early 16th century, and I say, definitely go with the microfilm. And to avoid the issues of normal microfilm reading, try to find a library with a digital microfilm reader - that way, you can enlarge the image and transcribe at the same time! If you can't find a digital reader, and you know you will be using a lot of mf, consider investing in a digital reader yourself. They aren't cheap (around $700 for a top-of-the-line model), but when you deal with crappy handwriting, etc., not to mention the eye strain of traditional readers, it may be worth it. My hubby is getting me one for Christmas!

Flavia said...

Ooh, my own microfilm reader! How cool (or, alternately, geeky) would that be? Thanks for suggesting it, Anon--that might be a good long-term solution, since one of my back-burner projects involves producing an edition based on several MSS.

In the short term, I'm not sure. I wrote back to the BL and they assured me that their paper copies were of very high quality. . . maybe I'll just go ahead and order *both* microfilm amd paper; it's only an extra $50 or so for the paper, and I think I can use my start-up funds for this.