Angie Georgeff, Unicoi County Public Library director, utilizes the new microfilm scanner at the library to look at old issues of The Erwin Record. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Kendal Groner)

By Kendal Groner

Thanks to a new microfilm scanner at the Unicoi County Public Library, patrons can now view and print information that has been preserved and archived on microfilm.

The microfilm scanner arrived at the library about a month ago and was made available through a Library Services and Technology Grant that required matching funds.

“This microfilm qualifies for that … the problem we have had in the past with getting one was having those matching funds,” said Angie Georgeff, Unicoi County Public Library Director.  “Fortunately, we have had a donor come in and make a sizeable donation toward those matching funds. We also had several other people contribute to it.”

The microfilm scanners operate similarly to an overhead projector. The film is illuminated as it travels through a series of mirrors that then projects a larger picture onto a computer screen. The microfilm scanner allows users to zoom in and out, adjust image quality with contrast or brightness, and also flip or rotate images.

“It was amazing, while I was sitting there trying to figure out how to use it, we received a call from someone wanting to view an obituary, and not long after that we had someone wanting information on a train wreck,” said Georgeff. “In order to do the research, we needed a microfilm scanner, so we got to use it twice in one day and two other times in that first week.”

The Unicoi County Public Library has Erwin newspapers dating back to 1887 on microfilm, although there are gaps in some of the years that are available. They also have Johnson City newspapers on microfilm from 1960 to 2007.

“We have a lot of county records for Unicoi County and we have a lot of editions of the Unicoi County newspapers starting with The Erwin Magnet way back in the 1800s,” Georgeff said. “A lot of the film hasn’t even been looked at in the years we’ve had it.”

Before acquiring the new microfilm scanner, the library was relying on an older microfilm viewer that they obtained from the Tennessee State Library and Archives.

“At the time, we had no way to view them (microfilm), and we were really glad to get that because at least people could look at them,” Georgeff said. “But since I have been here, no one could print the microfilm, but now we can actually print.”

The older microfilm viewer required a new light bulb in order to work properly, but since it was so old, no one was able to find a compatible replacement part.

“Now we have one we can be proud of, and it’s really a pleasure to go through the microfilm now,” Georgeff said.

Previously, the library staff was having to direct people to the East Tennessee State University Library, which has a microfilm scanner and reader.

“Of course the Tennessee State Library and Archives, they are the ones that digitized the film and they’ve got it all there,” Georgeff said. “If anybody has any old copies of newspapers from Unicoi County in particular, but really it can be any old newspapers, if it’s something that the state library doesn’t have, they would love to get it and scan it so they can preserve it for posterity.”

For those interested in learning how to utilize the new technology at the Unicoi County Public Library, a free class will be held on Thursday, April 12, at 6 p.m. to demonstrate how to use the microfilm scanner. Due to limited space, those interested in attending the class are encouraged to call ahead before attending. You can reach the Unicoi County Public Library at 743-6533.