Last week I had a great coup in the interlibrary loan area. I had a request for a copy of an article in a journal I had never seen in our library. The request was for a 1992 issue. In our online databases, this particular journal was only supported back to 1993. Our online catalog listed no holding for this journal; however OCLC had us listed as owning this journal. I decided to check the ol’ microfiche cabinets and sure enough there it was. The requested journal and we even had microfiche of the 1992 article. I was able to get our microfiche machine working and printed out the article and it was even legible (Only a few slightly fuzzy spots)! Hopefully it was appreciated by its recipient.

This incident made me think about all sorts of articles that we may be losing access to.  Many libraries are dumping or have already dumped their microfiche or microfilm collections. What have we thrown out that we cannot access in our expensive databases? Working at a community college library, we really can’t pay for large universities to send us copies of articles through interlibrary loan. If we can get it for free, that is a different matter. There doesn’t seem to be any ideal solution. The microforms are great but the technology to read them and print from them is going the way of the dinosaurs and to be honest, none of our patrons use them. But occasionally there will be that request …. And then hopefully some library will have retained a copy in some form. The online databases are nicer to search, but they do make me nervous because they are somewhat ethereal. Who is to say what journals they will carry and how far back they will give access. What is to prevent a vendor from eliminating a journal from its database? Who would notice the removal? The only really nifty solution as I see it would be for libraries to digitize all issues they get in print and any microforms they are dumping. Then have a massive digital repository for everything collected in the US. Any items that fall out of copyright would be able to be accessed by anyone and others would be able to be accessed by the libraries that held it in print. All others could get it through interlibrary loan. Alas there are a lot of problems with this idea. Where would we get the money to do all this (perhaps Google will take on a magazine archive after they have finished their book project?), among others…. But every now and then I wonder what pearls of wisdom, what books, articles, etc. have been effectively lost to us because microforms have been dumped and databases don’t provide access.

Okay, enough of that rant. Now I need to try to get over this nasty cold that has decided to invade.