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This is a guide for finding and using the microforms collections across the Commonwealth University campuses.

What are Microforms?

Microforms are made of either film or paper and contain reproductions of documents too small to be seen by the human eye. Images of different types of microforms are below. Click on the image to see a larger picture. More information about the differences between these materials is available from the University of Illinois Preservation Self-Assessment Program.

(35mm and 16mm reels of film)

Image courtesy of TownsWeb Archiving


(small sheets of film)









Image courtesy of Wikipedia


Microprint (also called Microopaque)
(large paper sheets)







Image courtesy of University of Illinois Preservation Self-Assessment Program


(small paper sheets)








Image courtesy of University of Illinois Preservation Self-Assessment Program

Why Do We Use Microforms?

In the mid-20th century, libraries and archives began using microforms as a way to preserve decaying newspaper collections. Deteriorating books and newspapers were preserved on film in order to maintain accessibility and use.

There are still many advantages to microforms today:

  • Microforms are compact and inexpensive, allowing libraries to expand collections, while reducing storage and other costs.
  • When produced properly, microforms have a life expectancy of up to 500 years and are easy to maintain.
  • Access to rare, valuable, or fragile items is enabled and there are very few incidents of microform theft.


This guide was adapted with permission from the About Microforms @ Pitt by Chris Lemery.