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Using Research Materials in Microform

By Laurie R. Serikaku and Pablo Calvan 1994


Microforms--microfilm, microfiche, text/fiche, etc.--have been used in libraries for nearly sixty years. There is now a very large and growing amount of research material--books, journals, newspapers, pamphlets, manuscripts, government documents, dissertations, or anything microfilmable--available in this format. Over the years the intellectual as well as the technical qualities of micropublications have continued to improve. Since new technologies work side-by-side with, rather than replacing, older ones, microforms can be expected to remain a substantial portion of the holdings of the Library of Congress and other research institutions, as well as a significant part of publishers' offerings.


The Library of Congress acquires microform materials in the same way it acquires inkprint materials (largely through the operation of the Copyright Law), so it now owns millions of pieces of microforms, including several hundred collections, which are housed and serviced by different sections and reading rooms. (See the handout Public Services in the Library of Congress for a complete list of reading rooms.)

The Microform Reading Room (MicRR) which was established in May 1942, houses and services the General Microform Collection, which is the Library's largest and most diverse group of microforms. The Manuscript Division, the Law Library, the Serials Division, and the Science and Technology Division, among others, also own and service large microform collections. The general rule is that a microform item is in the custody of and serviced by the same section or reading room that would have custody and service of the item if it were in paper. For example, an English language newspaper would go to the Serials Division regardless of format, while a book in Japanese would go to the Asian Division regardless of format, and so forth.

Searching for microforms in LC is in general very similar to searching for items in print format. Many of the tools and techniques are the same. Items in microform will often show up in search results, sometimes unexpectedly. (See the section below, "A Few Final Tips.")

Following is a list of basic sources to help you find microforms at the Library of Congress. More than one source may be needed. The order in which one uses the sources may vary according to specific research needs.


1) LC Computerized card catalogs (MUMS and SCORPIO, 1982- ;
Premarc (PREM) -1980. (Also known as LOCIS).

2) Card catalogs:
a) MicRR Card Catalog (pre-1982)
b) MicRR Serial File (pre-1988)
c) Main Card Catalog (pre-1980,
including the periodicals catalog

3) MRR CD-ROM network
Some of the databases available (such as ERIC, Dissertation Abstracts, Congressional Masterfile I and II, and Statistical Masterfile) index microforms owned by LC.

4) "Microform Collections and Selected Titles in the Microform Reading Room" ("K-3" and supplement, "K-4"; future editions to be available online and in print) is an annotated list with a subject index which can be consulted in many reading rooms.

5) Guides, indexes, and finding aids to microform collections or collected sets owned by LC:
a) produced by micropublisher
b) produced by LC staff
c) described in bibliographies on which collections are based
d) combinations of the above

6) Other publications produced by LC staff
a) HSS Research Guides
b) Quicksilver (MicRR publications no longer being issued)
c) Photoduplication Circulars

7) Reference Librarians
If you are not sure where to start, or if you come to a dead-end in your search, consult a reference librarian. For microforms in other LC divisions (e.g. Law, Science & Technology, Asian) consult staff in the appropriate reading room.


Just as LC does not own a copy of every book ever printed, so it does not own a copy of every microform ever filmed. To determine if microforms are available elsewhere, to learn more about a specific microform collection, or to find out if a microform does exist, one may consult one or more of the items on the following list of sources.

1) National Union Catalog
MRR Deck 7. On microfiche, 1983- MicRR. Also available as a MUMS file, 1983- (f=nuc). The NUC includes microform masters from 1984.

2) Internet
It is possible to search the catalogs of libraries (including the Library of Congress) and other research institutions worldwide.


These online cooperative catalogs list individual items (analytics) in many, large microform collections. Some libraries have public computer terminals available where patrons can search the OCLC and/or RLIN databases; consult your local library.

5) National Register of Microform Masters (1965-1983)
(Z663.A43 MRR Alc)

6) Newspapers in Microform
Z663.733.N47 MRR Ref Desk; LH&G; BRS; N&CPR, and other reading rooms.

7) Union List of Microfilms (1942-1959)
Z1033.M5 P5 1961 N&CPR
Lists microfilm only.

8) Guides, indexes, and finding aids to microform collections or collected sets NOT owned by LC.

The Library acquires, catalogs, and adds to its collection numerous guides and indexes to microform collections even when it does not own the microform collections themselves. These guides can be found using standard search techniques in the Library's catalogs.

9) Guide to Microforms in Print. Author. Title.Z1033.M5 G8 MRR Ref Desk; BRS

10) Subject Guide to Microforms in Print.
Z1033.M5 G83 MRR Ref Desk; BRS

11) Micropublishers' Trade List Annual (MTLA).
This microfiche reference source, available in MicRR, lists the annual catalogs of many micropublishers worldwide.

12) Serials in Microform (UMI)
Z6946.S47 MRR Alc; BRS

13) Microform Review Z265.M565 MicRR
(o)90/6869 MicRR
Quarterly, 1972-
See also: Cumulative Microform
Reviews, 1972-1976. Z1033.M5 C85

14) Microform Research Collections: A Guide
Z1033.M5 D64 MicRR; MRR Ref Desk; BRS

15) Microform Market Place (MMP)
Z286.M5 M53
This directory is used to find micropublisher's addresses. It also lists micropublishers by broad subject categories. It does not list individual microforms or collections produced by the micropublishers.

16) Publishers' catalogs and other announcements housed in MicRR, such as those of UMI, Congressional Information Service, and Chadwyck-Healey.

17) Books on Demand (UMI)
Z1033.M5 U53 1977 MRR Ref Desk


1) Remember that there are microforms in many different reading rooms in LC. Consult the staff specialists and/or the specialized tools available in these reading rooms.

2) It is often a good idea to consult the guides to microform collections to really know what is in them. All microform collections have not been fully analyzed and individual items within the collections may not be listed in the Library's catalogs (card, printed book, computer). For example, if you are trying to find out if LC has a certain book in microform, you may have to consult the guides to several of the microform collections that include books.

3) When searching LC catalogs, remember that there are still numerous items in microform that have only been given minimal level cataloging. This means that many subject searches will miss microform items. Keyword title searches are a good substitute.

4) When using the FIND command in MUMS, you can narrow your results to items in microform by adding "and t microform" to your search statement.

5) It is usually possible to acquire paper copies from microforms.

a) Most research institutions that own microforms also own microform reader/printers.
b) Since microforms do not really go "out of print," many micropublishers can and will sell on-demand paper copies of their microform materials.

6) Published bibliographies, scholarly articles, etc. routinely list or cite research materials in microform. Do not limit your search to those that only list microforms.

7) A library-wide, standardized system of microform call numbers has been used in LC since January 1982. These "new" microform call numbers indicate the location where the items are available (such as "MicRR"). Many of the "old" numbers still in use do not. Consult a reference librarian for assistance.

8) Many microforms acquired by LC before 1982 are only listed in the Microform Reading Room card catalog, and will remain so until these items are retrospectively re-cataloged.

November 1994

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