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Library’s Microfilm Collection Rescued from “Vinegar Syndrome”

July 13, 2005

Public Relations Department
Birmingham Public Library

The Birmingham Public Library and the Birmingham News have collaborated on a joint project to replace a major portion of the library’s microfilm collection of the Birmingham newspapers. This important purchase replaces more than 2,000 reels of the library’s damaged and deteriorating microfilm for the newspapers from the late 19th century into the 1970s. Much of the collection was affected with vinegar syndrome, a condition that causes the image on the film to disappear, as the film’s chemical compounds breakdown and gives off a vinegar smell. This deterioration is irreversible and makes the microfilm unreadable. It was with absolute urgency that the library sought to rescue this critical collection. Everyday, researchers, citizens, media personnel, and scholars visit the library to use this microfilm, much of it available almost no where else. These researchers will appreciate the improved quality and readability of the new film, which otherwise would be lost. 

The Birmingham Public Library collects newspaper microfilm dating back to the 1750s. The endangered Birmingham News microfilm, a major portion of which dates from 1894 to the present, documents the history and daily life in Birmingham, from the mining and industrial years through the civil rights era and the city’s emergence as a major medical center. Each reel of film contains images of complete newspapers including the daily news, columns, feature articles, editorials, advertisements, sports, and even the comics and movie listings. Front-page stories on local reaction to global events are followed with notices of weddings, deaths, and local sports scores. Illustrations and photographs supply pictures of the people and events that made the news. The Birmingham Public Library is replacing a significant portion of this history, through the newspaper microfilm. 

Barbara Sirmans, Director of the Birmingham Public Library, describes this purchase as “saving an essential asset for the Southern History Department and the Department of Archives and Manuscripts where research ranges from family history to book research to screenwriting projects. We are deeply appreciative to the Birmingham News for helping make this project possible.”  

The library’s complete collection of Alabama newspapers comprises approximately 6,600 reels of film housed in the Microforms Room on the second floor of the Linn-Henley building of the Central Library complex at 2100 Park Place. Additional information is available at 226-3625.

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Birmingham Public Library
2100 Park Place
Birmingham, Alabama 35203
(205) 226-3600

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