Between the late 1920s and 1960s, microfilm occupied a privileged position in an international discourse on documentation as a medium that would one day ostensibly allow each person to “carry a library” in their pocket. As microfilm reading and reproduction devices evolved from prototypes to quotidian features in library spaces in the postwar era, their impact was manifested in a set of subtle but crucial recalibrations of the relationship between individual user and knowledge system, specifically on the scale of the workstation. Against the backdrop of the modernisation of Paris’s Bibliothèque Nationale and the work of Georges Sébille, the French architect, planner and inventor of a microfilm reading device, this article traces the way the development of microphotographic technologies, combined with a new paradigm of technical precision advanced by the professionalised figure of the librarian-technician and the modern architectural discourse of material fitting, facilitated the transformation of the library from an architectural type into a set of spatial techniques for the processing of knowledge.
Michael Faciejew is a PhD candidate at Princeton University, where he is pursuing a joint doctoral degree in the School of Architecture and the Interdisciplinary Doctoral Program in the Humanities. He works at the intersection of the histories of architecture, media, and technology, with a special focus on the reshaping of intellectual labour in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. He is a former editor of Pidgin and a co-author of Keywords. For Further Consideration and Particularly Relevant to Academic Life (2017).
Keywords: microfilm, Georges Sébille, Bibliothèque Nationale de France, documentation, architecture