Discarded Microfilm Prompts Frustration

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A group of Westbury residents have expressed frustration and disappointment with a recent decision by the Westbury Memorial Public Library to get rid of the library’s microfilm, which included microphotographs of The Westbury Times dating back to 1954.

“I thought it was awful,” said Allison Clonmel, who periodically used the film for genealogy projects. “We rely on the news media for information regarding our community and culture. To hear the film was gone, I couldn’t believe it.”

microfilm__aLibrary Director Cathleen Merenda said the decision to get rid of the microfilm and machine was a “multiple step process” that took a number of years to get to. She said that the resources were only used once or twice a year, and that the library checked with Anton Media Group to see if hard copies of the papers would be available for residents looking for information.

Anton Media Group Circulation Director Joy DiDonato said she did get a call from the library asking if hard copies of The Westbury Times were available, but that there was no mention of the library getting rid of the microfilm or machine. Papers dating back to 1957 are stored at the Mineola office and are available to the public; however, many of the older editions are in delicate condition and are not able to be scanned.

Merenda said the microfilm machine at the library was old and that they were having trouble getting parts to have it repaired.

“That was part of the decision too, the machine was getting to the point that it was not usable,” Merenda said. “The board didn’t want to invest $10,000 in what was an antiquated technology. Once the machine was gone, that in combination with the film not being used, made the decision.”

Merenda said they thought about storing the film in the historical society building, but there was inadequate space to store the metal cabinets. The library board of trustees approved the decision to get rid of the microfilm machine in the spring; but no discussion was had (or required by library policy) about discarding the film, which was discarded over the summer.

The library still has hard copies of the paper from 1937-80, which Merenda says they plan to keep. Residents can also still get microfilm sent to the library, however, they will have to take it to the East Meadow Library to use the microfilm machine there (which has been the practice since the Westbury library’s microfilm machine went out of use).

Denise Parillo, secretary of the Westbury Historical Society, found out about the deaccessioned microfilm when she was looking for an old copy of The Westbury Times to further her research for a historical society program.

“I’m furious. I think there has been a tremendous disrespect to the people of Westbury. A part of our history is irretrievable,” said Parillo, who voiced her frustration at a library board of trustees meeting. “I was told there were three file cabinets that contained the film and there was needed space for staff. There were other places in the library where staff members could have been.”

Parillo said this was the first time she had went to use the microfilm, but working on the project gave her reason to believe she would use it more in the future. The historical society is now urging the board to digitize the copies they have, and if that is not a feasible option, to place the hard copies in a climate controlled room that will better preserve the old papers.

The library looked into the cost of digitization five years ago, and it was an expensive process, said Merenda. Board president Kenneth Little said the board is open to exploring options on preserving the papers, but cost is a factor that will definitely be taken into consideration. Little also said the board will be “discussing preventative measures, so something like this doesn’t happen again.”

1 COMMENT

  1. I can certainly understand not wanting to continue pouring money into an antiquated machine that hardly gets any use, but to actually DISCARD all of that history? That is unconscionable. I’m sure that if they had sought the public’s help, volunteers could have been found to digitize the film (easier than digitizing delicate papers). In fact, the schools have student bodies EAGER to do volunteer work.

    Bad move guys.

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