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Library microfilm

Librarian Rebecca Leannah

puts a strip on a roll on May 8 as she conducts a test on the condition of the microfilm at the Racine Public Library.

RACINE — Researchers looking to scour Racine newspapers from days of yore will once again have access to the Racine Public Library’s microfilm collection.

After discovering this spring that 1,181 microfilm reels had been slowly eroding due to a phenomenon called vinegar rot, librarians began searching for a way to create new records of the periodicals before they vanished altogether.

What they recommended was an aggressive effort to the replace the damaged reels and their content, with newer, more durable microfilm.

Since netting approval from the Library Board of Trustees, the library has been sending the damaged reels to a firm in Michigan to be replicated.

So far the firm has reproduced 1,600 reels, said reference librarian Rebecca Leannah.

The library has asked the firm to make two copies of each damaged reel of film — one for users, and one master copy the library can use to make copies.

The effort was expected to cost about $100,000 in June, but may actually come in under the budget, Leannah said.

The money for the project is coming out the library’s Boernke Fund. Created in 1979 with a donation of $79,000 from Alma Boernke, the fund had a balance of $378,700 as of late last week, according to library business manager Dan Schultz. At that point, two of three payments had already been made to NA Publishing, Inc., he said.

The new user reels are still being cataloged, but Leannah said she hopes to have them available for people to use by the end of October.

That should come as good news to local researchers who have been unable to access the damaged microfilm for nearly six months.

Librarians first discovered the problem with the film in April, when they noticed a vinegary order emanating from the microfilm area. The smell was caused by Vinegar Rot Syndrome, a smelly situation that occurs when the acetate backing of microfilm produced before 1990 begins to break down.

To keep the decay from going any further, the library put all the reels made before 1990 on hold. The effort was done to protect some of the library’s most valuable and most popular collections — local newspapers dating back to the 1830s.

Although the oldest of the microfilm was in “pretty bad shape,” according to Leannah, all of it will be salvaged.

The new reels are being produced using a silver halide expected to last 300 years, she said.

The librarians had considered digitizing the film for viewing on computers, but decided against it after determining it would be too costly and time-consuming.

The library didn’t have the storage space on its servers, Leannah said. And many older library users, accustomed to accessing newspapers on microfilm, might have a hard time using computers to access the information, she added.

“There are also still a lot of older members in the community who use the microfilm,” Leannah said. “That is what they know. That is what they grew up using.”

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