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.
FINDING MICROFORMS FOR RESEARCH IN THE LIBRARY OF CONGRESS
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
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.
FINDING MICROFORMS AVAILABLE FOR RESEARCH OR PURCHASE ELSEWHERE
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
It is possible to search the catalogs of
libraries (including the Library of Congress) and other research
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
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
9) Guide to Microforms in Print. Author. Title.Z1033.M5 G8 MRR Ref
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
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)
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
16) Publishers' catalogs and other announcements housed in
MicRR, such as those of UMI, Congressional Information Service,
17) Books on Demand (UMI)
Z1033.M5 U53 1977 MRR Ref Desk
A FEW FINAL TIPS
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
5) It is usually possible to acquire paper copies from
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.