How to time travel without building a time machine

We’ve all seen this movie. After about half an hour of some very eyebrow-raising incidents, the camera cuts to the main character hunched over the warm glow of a large rectangular screen. Wide-eyed, they stare intently at black and white streaks racing in front of them until suddenly they stop! And there, perfectly centered and focused, is a newspaper article about a toxic waste spill that happened suspiciously just a mile upstream from where all those mutant fish men have just been sighted.

If you’re anything like us, this pulse-pounding research action is the highlight of the story, and you’ve long dreamed of having an experience that would even come close to matching it. Well, hold onto your seats because your dreams are about to come true. 

What you’re seeing in all of those scenes is called “microfilm” and it’s an analog wonder from the pre-digital age. Just like it sounds, microfilm is basically just very small pictures of documents laid out in sequence on a long strip of celluloid film. Before digital technology, it was the best way to make a huge amount of information as physically small and easy to store as possible. A roll of microfilm that's an inch and a half thick can easily hold the equivalent of two to three month’s worth of daily newspapers. It could also hold a year’s worth of shorter or less frequently published papers. 

If you’re looking for that authentic, hands-on movie-style experience, your Main Library downtown has several state-of-the-art microfilm viewers that are optimized to let you easily print, save, or email whatever you find. We can’t guarantee that you’ll discover your upcoming camping trip to the lake coincides with the ten year anniversary of “The Hockey Mask Murders,” but we can say that if it was newsworthy in Hamilton County, it’s probably here.

We have every Cincinnati newspaper. No, really, like every one that’s ever been published since 1793. We also have a team of dedicated professionals ready, willing, and able to get you started and help you along the way. 

Unable to get downtown? Not a problem. Your library card gets you free unlimited access to a ton of online resources, including digital copies of the complete Cincinnati Enquirer, opens a new window (photos, advertisements and all) from 1841 to 2009.

Remember the time you got your picture in the Sports Section after your school took the division? Here’s how you can get a copy. Want to know what movies were playing on the day you were born? What was firing up the letters to the editor back then? You can find clues to the history of your house, your neighborhood, your school, where you shop, work, play… It’s like an instant time capsule that’s just a few clicks away.

And as always, your friendly neighborhood Librarians are here to help. Check out our My Librarian page, opens a new window to set up a one-on-one appointment or reach out to us by phone, email, or online chat.