Over the course of the past two days, I have spent a grand total of 3.5 hours sitting in the library with a microfiche machine scanning a 1963 dissertation to PDF so that I could take a copy home with me and peruse it at my leisure rather than be bound by the in-library usage of a microfilm reader.
If you’ve never scanned microfilm, you can consider yourself a happier person for it. It entails sitting at a dimly-lit workstation with machines that haven’t been updated in the last fifteen years (and can’t be since the drivers for the microfiche readers are no longer made
to accommodate updated windows systems… also a microfiche reader will run you somewhere in the neighborhood of two thousand dollars and that’s the cheap model… for technology that hasn’t been updated since the eighties and actually can’t be updated anymore). You line up your shot, click at least three times, then wait twenty seconds for the reader to scan the page. You hope that the page scans with an appropriate brightness setting and, if it does, you move on to the next page. Advancing the film is an entirely manual process. There’s no automating it.
The book that I scanned was 250 pages worth of frames.
So you sit, advance, click click click, wait… sit, advance, click click click, wait… You can perhaps hope to do some bits of work in the interim between clicks (if you have work that you don’t need to think about constantly). I used the opportunity to catch up on my grade-book keeping… for the first hour at least. Essentially, once you’re done, you now have a pile of reading to do and your eyes are glazed over from a marathon of fluorescence.
I couldn’t help but think that it would be reason enough to become a rock star academic just so I could have someone else be responsible for this kind of menial task for me. At the same time, there is something romantic about scanning your own microfilm.
Oh, did I mention that the students behind the reference desk often know nothing about the readers and so, if there’s a problem that you can’t fix yourself, you have to wait for someone from IT to show up? Because those readers are probably older than the student workers. I was advised by the circ desk worker that I was the first person he had ever encountered who needed to know where the readers lived. That’ll give you hope for the researchers of tomorrow.
Living life in twenty second intervals is extremely disorienting. The day slips by and you haven’t even noticed. It made me wonder what other things would look like if performed in twenty second clips.
Cooking? Baking? The greatest works of literature? Acting? Dancing? Twenty seconds is all you get… then you pause to re-align… then you get another twenty seconds. Anyway, suffice to say that I got very little done today… and yesterday. It feels, however, like I accomplished a few mammoth tasks. And I guess that could be accurate(ish). I did manage to fit some proof-reading, record-keeping, e-mail writing, twitter feeding, contract-writing, and internet-surfing in between those bits of film.
So, if you’ll excuse me, I have a dissertation that’s old as sin to get through (this dude’s, not mine… mine is still in its infancy). I also have two plays to review in two days (both Shakespeare-related – Bristol Old Vic and Handspring Puppets’ Midsummer Night’s Dream at ArtsEmerson tonight, then Vagabond Theatre Group’s Breaking the Shakespeare Code tomorrow). If you need me, I’ll be buried under my job for a while.