Microfiche is a sheet of film containing miniaturized reproductions of documents, typically at one twenty-fifth their original size. Microfiche, along with other microforms, can be viewed with a desktop reader.
The film's thinness and compact size enable it to be stored easily and efficiently, allowing libraries, museums, and businesses to archive a huge number of documents without the need for additional storage space.
While many organizations now store records digitally, microfiche is still in use. For example, microfiche is often the best way to access decades-old newspaper articles. In fact, microfiche has certain advantages over digital storage formats, since microfiche will continue to be viable even as data storage technology changes dramatically.
Microfiche and Other Microforms
Microfiche is a type of microform, which is the term for a medium that stores an exact, miniature copy of a document.
The most common microform formats are:
- Microfiche: A flat sheet of transparent film, usually with a polyester base, on which multiple pages of a document are printed in an extremely small size (usually 105 mm by 148 mm, or 4 inches by 5.8 inches). Microfiche sheets are stored in envelopes.
- Microfilm: A strip of film on which the miniaturized copies are printed. Microfilm reels are stored in boxes.
- Aperture card: A punch card with a window that holds a single microfilm image.
Microfiche is too small to be read with the naked eye and must be magnified first. Specialized machines known as a microform readers (sometimes called "microfiche readers" or "microfilm readers") make this task easier. Microform readers typically consist of a magnifying lens and a simple projector that allows the user to see the enlarged image on a screen. These machines can quickly flick through hundreds of images, and also have the capability to rotate, focus, and zoom.
Microform readers are primarily found in large institutions that store a lot of documents, such as university libraries and archives. Specialized scanning devices can be used to convert the microform to a digital image that can be read on a computer, and some microform readers also serve as printers.
Advantages of Microfiche
- Organizations that own valuable or important documents can use microfiche to provide researchers with access to important records with little risk of loss or damage to the originals.
- Even a small storage cabinet can hold thousands of microfiche cards, collectively containing tens of thousands of pages of material.
- Desktop microform readers, though expensive, are not very complex and don't require specialized software.
- Microfiche is still in fairly common use, especially by research institutions. This is in contrast to other storage methods, such as CDs, which are based on technology that is increasingly becoming obsolete, making it difficult to access the stored data.
- The polyester material on which the images are printed is very stable and, if kept in a temperature-controlled environment, can last for up to 500 years. CDs, on the other hand, are estimated to last for about 75 to 100 years.
- If a microfiche card becomes damaged, the organization that owns the document can have a new one created relatively cheaply from the original or a master negative.
- Special equipment is needed to read and duplicate microfiche cards, so they are not always practical.
- Microform readers are bulky and are far less common than personal computers. Furthermore, making a paper copy of a document stored on microfiche requires the use of a special printer.
- Color ink is rarely used in microfiche because it tends to fade or degrade when exposed to the bright light of the reader. The contrast on black and white images is very good, but half-tones and grays cannot be produced as clearly. This means that photographs and other pictures often do not look as good when stored in this format.
- Microfiche documents are far more difficult to share than digital files; if a document is only available on microfiche, a researcher may have to travel to the physical location where that record is stored to view it. Data stored digitally, on the other hand, can be sent via email or via a file sharing service and then read on a personal computer.
- Microform readers can be difficult to use, sometimes requiring the user to scroll through many document pages on one card in order to find the desired information. Digital data, on the other hand, can be searched easily with the use of specialized applications or software.