Several reasons actually. First and foremost, the rights to reproduce images of these manuscripts belong with the library, museum, monastery, or institution that hold the originals, not with Dumbarton Oaks. Within our library, the microfilm collection is intended for in-house scholarly use, not for wider public consumption (however desirable).
Secondly, the best digital surrogate of a manuscript is created by photographing the original, not scanning a microfilm that is several steps removed from the original. Every time an image is reproduced from another reproduction, then “information” is lost (you might notice that digital photographs made of illustrations in books are never as clear as original photographs of objects – more grainy or pixelated, for example).
Thirdly, however strange this may seem in our increasingly digital world, microfilm is still a trusted format for long-term access to information. Digital is not yet accepted as the best long-term solution for storing information, because of rapid changes in digital technology and the risk of lost or destroyed data.
…making copies of at-risk film?
Decisions about what to do with deteriorating film will be made after the full extent of the problem can be adequately assessed.
Film that are in advanced stages of deterioration but still have some usable life left in them might be moved to our cold storage rooms.
We will not house the entire collection in cold storage, in part because of limited space, but in larger part because the cold storage rooms are kept locked to protect several unique collections that must be kept in cold conditions. We do not want to restrict patrons’ access to the microfilm collection. Fortunately, the new library maintains appropriately cool temperatures and relative humidity in its general stacks in order to ensure the long-term preservation of film that is not in advanced stages of deterioration.
At some point, Deb will access the importance of film that are at the greatest risk in order to decide whether to replace individual films.