Using Microfilm

Public libraries and archives throughout the United States offer access to collections of historical newspapers. Before starting your research, contact your local library or archive to see if they have digital archives you can look at. In many cases, historical newspapers are available solely on microfilm.

How Do I Get Started?

  1. Call your local library or archive to confirm it has the newspaper you’re looking for and to ask when you can access its microfilm archives.
  2. Before conducting your research, think about the dates you are looking for. If you are looking in a daily paper, then it is likely that the paper would report on an event within a few days after it occurred. Evening papers may have reported on the event on the same day it occurred. If it is a weekly paper, then it may report on an event even several weeks after it occurred.
  3. When you get to the library, ask where you can find the microfilm archives. Ask staff for help locating your paper if needed.
  4. Locate the microfilm for the dates you plan to research.

How Do I Use a Microfilm Reader?

  1. There are many different models of microfilm readers. Feel free to ask staff for help using their readers.
  2. Locate the “power” button and turn the machine on. On older machines, slide out the glass plate on the reader and place your microfilm on the machine’s left film spindle.
  3. Thread your film under the glass plate to the right film spool on the machine. Slide the glass plate back to close it. Use the forward and back buttons on the machine to scroll through your microfilm. You may need to adjust the screen’s focus and zoom, you can do this by turning the two wheels over the machine’s glass plate.
  4. Ask the library or archives staff if you can print from the machine. If so, use the buttons on the machine to print your article. If not, ask staff if you can take a picture of the microfilm screen. If you are unable to print out the article, or if the text is too small to read in a print out or photo, be sure to take notes on all of the required data requests for this project (e.g., title, author, date, etc.).
  5. Once you’re done using the machine, rewind the film using the rewind button, remove it from the spindle, and turn the machine off.

Other resources

Searching Google's News Archive

Instructions for Searching Google's Newspaper Archives

How to Use a Microfilm Machine