Combine faded records, old handwriting, ink splotches and images whirring by, and you see how using a microfilm reader can be a somewhat uncomfortable experience (we know people who have actually gotten seasick). These tips will have you scrolling like a pro:
- Try to choose a machine in the darkest area of the library.
- Before loading the film into the machine, look at the glass plates that sandwich the film. If they’re dirty, ask the librarian for a paper towel and cleaner so you can wipe them off. If they’re scratched, find another machine.
- Wipe dust off the projection surface or screen, too.
- Switch to another type of machine if you don’t like the one you’re using. According to a newsletter from the West Virginia Department of Culture and History, people who wear bifocals or glasses with graduated lenses often find microfilm readers with vertical screens easier to read.
- If the image seems too light or fuzzy, experiment with the light setting, focus knob and magnification.
- Placing a sheet of light blue, light green or yellow paper on the projection surface might help you read the film. If your machine displays the image on a vertical screen, hold a blue, green or yellow transparency sheet over it. (You can purchase these sheets at an office supply stores and tuck them into your research tote.)
- Bring a magnifying glass to hold up to the image (the library may have one you can borrow).
- Print both light and dark copies—if the image has light spots in one area and dark spots in another, you may need both printouts to read the whole document.
- Similarly, try printing both positive (black on white) and negative (white on black) versions of the record.
- Look away from the reader when you scroll (stop and check the film often to see where you are). If you feel yourself getting nauseous, take a break and go check out the Family History books.
- If you’re really prone to motion sickness, take a nondrowsy over-the-counter medication such as Dramamine before you go to the library.
Having trouble using the machine or reading the film? Ask the library staff for help—that’s what they’re there for.