When a respected scholar expressed severe reservations about using microfiche for research, I was motivated to poll Facebook friends about the value of microforms. Facebook is not regarded as a prime research tool; so, I decided to satisfy these two points of curiosity. My Facebook friends gave me almost as much feedback as I received from email queries. With Facebook, it is easy to miss a relevant message because of the volume of posting. A dedicated Facebook page for this topic might have helped, but I am not convinced it would have been more useful than posting on my page.
The cleverest response I received was a wish for an iPhone app that would allow the user to read microforms. At least one microform title has appeared online, but I cannot wrap my mind around the use of an iPhone to read microfiche. It would be wonderful to see happen.
There is enormous hostility to microforms, but microforms have their good qualities. They are inexpensive and they save space. Librarians have observed better use when microforms are explained and promoted. Some topics are best found, maybe only available, on microforms: state session laws, state documents, legislative history, government documents in some cases (although much is digital), genealogy, eighteenth century information including musicology, rare art history images, to give examples. Microforms are more stable than digital forms and provide excellent archival storage, especially because of their long lifespan. One highly respected law library considers microforms a thing of the past. In more than one response, I read that a serious researchers will use microforms. The unfriendliness of use can be alleviated by a scanner. Three responses praised Scanpro 2000 by e-image data ( www.e-imagedata.com )
Users more probably think of the downside of microforms: hard to use, rarely used, avoided at all costs, hated format, easily misfiled if fiche, unknown to young users, sometimes illegible.
An old article from Micrographics and Hybrid Imaging Systems Newsletter of July 2000 assessed the value of microforms. Despite the age of this article, I believe the central point was well-made. Microforms and digital works do well to cooperate. Microforms provide the archival copy. The digital copy, which would change with hardware models, would provide the access to the content. Microforms do archival preservation better than digital copies do. Digital works clearly provide better subject access. The talents of the two formats remain what they were in 2000.
Microforms may not be popular, but they have their place and their strong points. I believe they will stay around and even be used by researchers for awhile yet.
-Sally Wambold, University of Richmond Law Library