Way back a few centuries ago in the mid-1980s, long before anyone had ever heard the word “internet,” I was assigned to write an article for Smithsonian magazine on the decline of a once-loved American institution, the drug store soda fountain. The research for my story led me to seek newspaper and magazine articles from the heyday of soda fountains in the early- and mid-20th century.
If you are of a certain age, you will understand what I mean when I say that this endeavor resulted in my spending many hours in a public library squinting through a gargantuan, eye-straining machine known as a microfilm reader. If you are younger than that, herewith a brief explanation: to make back issues of certain magazines and newspapers accessible for years to come, a few companies were in the business of photographing the publications, page by page, and printing them onto acetate film in a much reduced size.
The film was called microfilm and in order to actually read it, a researcher could put the film into a machine called a microfilm reader and turn a cranking device (later replaced by an electric motor) in order to scroll to the section being sought. Continue reading