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Chicago Building Permits Digital Collection 1872-1954

Using Digital Reel

The Chicago Building Permits Collection Home Page

​The collection home page lists the four sections of the Chicago Building Permits collection.


NOTE: Please do not use the search box.  The search function does not work on the handwritten documents in the collection.  

Reel Lists

Once you select a section of the collection from the home page, you'll see a table listing the reels in that section.

Each section of the collection offers a list of reels of microfilm.  Each reel has the following information:
  • ​Reel UID: ID number for that reel
  • Title: The reel title.  For the Ledger Books, this will be the ledger book title.  For the Street Index this will be the street names in that reel.
  • Library: The supplier of the reel that was scanned
  • Instructions: A link to this guide.
  • Original Reel Number: ID number for the reel on microfilm at UIC.

Digital Microfilm Navigation & Display Tools

Once you've selected a reel of microfilm, you'll see several tools in the interface to help you navigate to the right place on the reel and enhance or enlarge the page image so you can read it.  These tools are what make the Digital Reel system work something like a traditional microfilm reader.

Pictured above: the default page display when you select a reel to view.  The navigation and image management tools are highlighted.

Navigation: Scrolling Through A Reel

When you display a reel, it will display the first image on that reel.  The index card or permit you need may be near the end of that reel.  There are 3 ways to navigate through the reel:

1. Click the left and right arrows on either side of an image to move the next image. Use this method when you are very close to the index card or permit you need.

2. Click on the page number display at the top of the screen.  This will allow you to enter a higher page number to jump ahead on the reel. For example, say you are looking at the street index reel for 4949 S. Hermosa to 8416 S Honore and you are looking for 2042 N. Honore.  The reel has 5157 images. You can guess that Honore street is near the end of the reel.  If you click on the page number and type in 4500 to jump ahead to near the end of the reel, you will be closer to the address you're looking for.

3. Click on the VIEW FILM button to the right of the page image.  This will take you to a screen that lets you scroll through the reel as if you were using a microfilm reader.  From here you can:

  • Use the right or left arrow images to scroll forward or backward on the reel

  • Click on the blue dot at the bottom of the screen and drag it forward or back to move through the reel.


Pictured above: the reel scroll view you see once you click on the VIEW FILM button.
You can scroll quickly through the reel by dragging the blue circle left or right.

Enhancing the Image

When you first display a page it may be difficult to read.  These are photographs of old handwritten records taken in the late 1950s, and the default Digital Reel display is to show you a low resolution image so that scrolling and navigation are faster.  There are three ways to enhance the visibility of the image:
  1. Select the Enhance button. This will turn the image from low resolution to grayscale, making it easier to read.
  2. Use the Zoom In button.
  3. Use the Adjust features.  These will let you darken, lighten, change contrast or invert the black and white polarity for an image.  

Some common image adjustments you'll need to make for legibility are to decrease the brightness and increase the contrast.  You may sometimes need to press the Deskew option to straighten crooked pages.

The image quality in this collection varies a great deal.  Different images and even different areas of an image may need different display adjustments to be clearly legible.

Print and Download

  • Use the Print Page option to print a specific index card or ledger page.  
  • Do not use the Print Document option! It will print the entire reel.

To print a single permit

You may need to use multiple tools to print or download a single permit.  In the example below, the following steps produced a print of a single permit:

  1. Click on the Scissors tool, then highlight the portion of the page you want to print.
  2. Click on the Enhance tool to improve image quality.
  3. Choose the Print > Document option.

The permit I want to print is the third form in the top row.


Selecting and printing a single permit will result in a more legible copy. 
  • Note that the Scissors tool has changed to an X. 
  • Click the X to display the full page again.


The Download option offers multiple formats.


Return to Collection Home

Because this collection is divided into sections, you'll often need to return to the home page and select a different section of the collection to continue.  To return to the home page from a microfilm viewing screen, click the arrow in the upper left corner of the screen.

Other Digital Reel Tools: Search 

We do not recommend that you use the search tool in Digital Reel.  This collection is handwritten text and is not searchable.

Online Help and Videos

When you're in the Digital Reel system, a link to this guide for using the Chicago Building Permits Collection is available from the Instructions column of each list of reels.

There is also a Digital Reel user manual and access to brief instructional videos in the Help menu.  These are strictly about using the Digital Reel system to navigate digitized microfilm; they are for all Digital Reel users, and are not specific to the Chicago Building Permits Collection.

NEXT: Using the Street Index