If you are searching for an item and find that it is stored on microfilm at the famous Stephen A. Schwartzman Building – the one with the lions – then follow this protocol.
BEFORE YOU GO
Assuming you have found the details online, then to get the right film reel, you need only one thing, the call number. For my own research I found an entire page of details, including this:
Dates of publication: Vol. 1, no. 1 (Apr. 6, 1911)-v. 6, no. 255 (Sept. 14, 1938).
Reproduction: Microfilm. Apr. 6,1911-Sept. 14,1938:[Gaps] New York : New York Public Library, [19–]. 18 microfilm reels ; 35 mm. (MN *ZZAN-1079)
Hierarchical place name: United States New York New York New York
Additional physical form entry: Original (DLC)sn 83045357
Donor note: Slavic Recon Project 2005
Research call number: *ZAN-*Q23 [Microfilm]
Topical term: [Socialism, Russians]
but needed only what’s in the row in bold “ZAN-Q23” (the asterisks are apparently useless).
The second thing you need to bring is cash, to make copies – quarters and/or dollar bills.
FINDING THE ROOM WHERE THE FILMS ARE STORED
Walk up the stairs past the lions on Fifth Avenue just south of 42nd Street.
Do not go to the research library on the 3rd floor. When you get in the building turn left and go south all the way to the end, then turn right and walk west to the end of the hallway and enter Room 100 which is called the Microforms Reading Room.
FINDING THE FILM
This room is an old-world operation and the people working there are a bit snippety but they will help you if you ask. First you have to write the call number on a small piece of paper they give you, using little pencils they have on the counter. You will be assigned a number. When the librarian finds your film reel s/he will write your number on a white board and then will give the film reel to you.
READING THE FILM AND MAKING COPIES
There are many machines and some are not great so I suggest you ask someone who works there to recommend one that works well, and I also suggest you ask the person to load the reel onto the machine for you. I am pretty good with machines but managed to break off the first 10 inches of the film.
The main control is a knob which allows you to go back and forth through the film. You also can rotate the entire center part of the machine if you need to see it at 90 degrees. When you find what you want to copy be aware that there are at least 2 lenses. There is no zoom, so if it is showing too little and you need to copy for example a whole newspaper page then ask for a wide angle lens, and vice-versa. There are no signs about this – you have to ask. Also ask which of the lines on the screen represent the area which will be copied. You have to play with the scroll wheel and the entire center apparatus to get what you want in the right place for copying.
The only other control is focus – a round wheel with spokes right under the lens. Before copying you should focus with the wheel and make sure the part you want is sharp.
Next get a card from the machine on the wall – it costs 25 cents each copy. To make a copy put your card in the card reader and then press the yellow button once and then the green button. You’ll hear noises coming from the copier under the table and the copy will soon appear. Check it carefully before moving on to another page. A final note – there are a bunch of small buttons – don’t touch any of them as it may stop the machine from working and the staff will yell at you.
When finished, carefully rewind the reel and hand it back to a librarian behind the counter.
To scan your copies, use gray scale mode, not black and white, as it will come out much more readable.
For the NYPL web page on the Microforms Reading Room, with hours and information about other microfilm sources in the library system, click here.