Microfiche Poll

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

3 Responses to “Microfiche Poll”

  1. 1 Roger Skalbeck March 15, 2011 at 3:38 pm

    Though I am a big fan of digitization and all-electronic tools, I want to write with a small endorsement for microfiche (and microfilm) as a future-proof format. If I remember the source correctly, I recall a quote from the 1995 book ‘Future Libraries’ from Walt Crawford & Michael Gorman to the effect of: ‘computers may die and electronic storage may fail, but you can always shine a light through a piece of plastic.’

    Let’s look back on this idea in 10-20 years to see whether fiche+film or fonts+files are better preserved.

    – Roger

  2. 2 swambold March 15, 2011 at 6:11 pm


    I agree with you completely about both electronics and microforms. It will be interesting to see how microforms hold up as a tool for researchers. The longevity of microforms is judged, probably with authority, to be 500 years. Clearly floppy disks, for example, did not live up to that standard. There are other examples of short-lived electronic tools, of course.

    We all will stay tuned!


  3. 3 swambold March 22, 2011 at 6:24 pm

    Today I stumbled upon the reformatting article about microfiche at the website of the Northeast Document Conservation Center. The NEDCC provided rich additional information about microfiche that I would like to make available here:


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March 2011

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