Social Services and Amenities Picture This! Using Microfilm Technique to Preserve Books
Picture This! Using Microfilm Technique to Preserve Books

Picture This! Using Microfilm Technique to Preserve Books

Books and newspapers are such fragile things - printed on paper, they tear readily, disintegrate easily and before you know it, they are gone. This creates a problem for libraries. So how did the National Library (NL) tackle the challenge of preservation? They took pictures of the collections!

Legend:     Document     Newspaper     Picture

Using a technique called "microfilming" , books, records and newspapers were photographed, and the resulting microfilms could be read on a "microfilm reader" by anyone who asked for them. It was an excellent way to preserve the physical collections, and yet grant readers access to information in the books and newspapers. Another advantage of this method was that images could be photographed in miniature copies (hence "micro"), saving a lot of space. It is no surprise then, that microfilm was the norm in libraries and archives around the world.

NL jumped onto the microfilm bandwagon early. It sent its collections for microfilming in the late 1950s , mere decades after the technology was commercialised in the 1930s. In 1965, NL took over the Microfilming Unit from the Ministry of Law, and with it, the responsibility of microfilming for many government departments . However, the number of pages to be filmed was huge - a whopping backlog of 2 million pages in 1962 ! Thus, when NL heard about UNESCO's Mobile Microfilm Unit Project, a travelling team providing help in microfilming, it wasted no time taking up the offer. A UNESCO microfilming expert arrived in Singapore in 1965, and helped to microfilm a total of 151 rolls of films during his 11-month stay .

In 1969, the library associations in Singapore and Malaysia set up the Sub-Committee on Microfilming Projects (SCOM) to look at all microfilm-related issues. Researchers in the U.S. also proposed a Southeast Asian Microform project (SEAM) to help fellow researchers. Seems like everyone was keen to join the microfilm party!

However, all this effort would have been for nought if no one made use of the microfilms. So did Singaporeans take to this new technology? They sure did ! Even today, microfilms are being used here in our libraries and at the national archives.

By National Archives of Singapore. Published May 2019.

Explore the Resources

Government Files
News Coverage