Breaking Down Barriers to Accessing Technical Literature on Opaque Microcards

Milburn, Morgan
Phillips, Mark
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Texas Digital Library

In the early 2000s, a group called the Technical Report Archive and Image Library (TRAIL) formed to preserve and provide access to the technical report literature published by and on behalf of the United States government. Today TRAIL has more than 50 institutional members, all interested in preserving and providing access to this technical literature. TRAIL works with institutions like the University of Arizona, University of Michigan, HathiTrust, and the University of North Texas to identify, catalog, digitize, provide access to, and preserve these reports digitally. In addition to a large number of reports published on traditional paper, agencies such as the Department of Energy were early adopters of technological improvements such as micro-imaging as an aide to the growing demand and size of the technical literature output. A large number of reports exist primarily in common microformats such as microfiche and microfilm, while others existing in less common formats like opaque microcard. This last microformat introduces barriers to accessing the literature contained in this format.

Opaque microcards, or simply just “microcards”, are 3in x 5in (7.5 cm. x 12.5 cm.) pieces of paper cardstock that carry a set of document pages in a greatly reduced scale to the original. This format was useful for compressing documents onto small cards for easy organization and distribution of pieces; however, the image quality of these documents are usually low and difficult to read. The readers for these cards are limited to major libraries, complicated to use for many readers, and are costly to repair; and because this format died out after cardboard turned to film with microfiche, there has not been updated technology or resources to read or properly catalog these documents.

We at the UNT Libraries in collaboration with TRAIL are working to break down the barriers that prevent these documents from being easily accessible and readable for all patrons. UNT is piloting a project to digitize 1,000 reports from the Atomic Energy Commission with the aim of producing updated, high-quality results from a technology that has been mostly forgotten. Presently, we are working with two different vendors who are helping us produce these high-quality results and understand the limitations of the format as well as technological limitations of modern imaging equipment. Because the production of opaque microcards and their readers have died out, there is no standard technology that can be used to digitize the cards, so our vendors are having to construct and customize their own solutions to this problem. The goal of the pilot is to produce a workflow that can be used to complete the digitization of over 15,000 reports on microcard from the Atomic Energy Commission as well as other organizations that made use of this format. This poster will present an overview of the project, an introduction to the challenges of digitizing opaque microcard, and the progress we have made to date with the workflow for this type of digitization project.

Presented by the University of North Texas, Poster Minute Madness, at TCDL 2019.