What is microfiche and microfilm?

Microfiche and microfilm are not everyday words to most, but in their day, both microfiche and microfilm offered the best possible storage and archive solution. In the days before computers really took off and the digital age became what it is today, they were commonplace for those wanting to preserve documents and images in time.

However thanks to the almost unprecedented advancements in technology over the last 15 years, both microfiche and microfilm are now seen as outdated, having been replaced my more modern methods – such as simple scanning. These methods have taken over thanks to providing numerous benefits, such as more economical and secure, as well as providing much faster access to these important documents. And as a result, microfiche scanning and microfilm scanning is now a popular option for those wanting to make the leap towards more modern processes.

Despite being seen as outdated, both microfiche and microfilm are a part of our history. And you may even have come across them before, but not known exactly what they were. So if you’re keen to learn more about these two, once pioneering methods, keep reading.

What is microfiche?

Microfiche is essentially a card made from transparent film. It is used to store printed information in small form in order to save space. Not readable to the naked eye, it must be placed under the lens of a specialist machine which magnifies it to enable it to be read easily.

They became so popular thanks to their small and super thin size. This allows them to be stored easily and efficiently which allows libraries, museums and businesses to increase their resource collections without the need for additional storage space. Although their popularity has declined, microfiche records are still created and used.

What is microfilm?

Microfilm is similar to microfiche, but does have a significant difference. Where microfiche is a sole sheet of plastic that contains several pages of text or images, microfilm is a long reel of plastic film that winds and rewinds to view the text or images.

Microfilm again requires a specialist tool to enable the data to be read easily due to the scaled down size of the information contained on it. Just like microfiche, they were common sights in archives, libraries and museums, providing a glimpse of days gone by. Many microfilm reels have been replaced nowadays due to their outdated nature, but do still exist.

Thanks to computers offering a cheaper and more economical storage solution, microfiche and microfilm are on the decline.

Find out about our microfiche scanning and microfilm scanning services for businesses of all sizes.

Historic archives given digital update with microfiche scanning

Libraries and museums across the world store many old books, manuscripts, drawings and more for educational purposes and to inform generations to come. Since the late 1920s, microfilm and microfiche has been used to reduce these dated documents to a smaller size, preserving content and making them easier to store. As technology has progressed, Pearl Scan offers the ‘next step’ in archiving with its microfilm scanning service, digitising these microfiche and microfilm files into a digital format, providing a modern day upgrade to this conventional historic document storage solution.

While microfiche and microfilm allows for huge archives of information to be kept within a smaller area, physical space is still required to store these files in a format that will naturally deteriorate over time. Using Pearl Scan’s microfiche scanning service, vast libraries of important data can be digitised and stored virtually on a cloud-based server, freeing up more space and preserving these files in a secure and indestructible format.

Naveed Ashraf, Managing Director at Pearl Scan said, “Old texts and drawings can provide so much important information for us and generations to come, which is why it is imperative to preserve these physical formats over time. While microfiche and microfilm has proven to be effective in the past, it is not the perfect solution. I urge all libraries, museums and specialist archives that are currently using this storage process to try our Pearl Scan’s microfiche scanning service today.”

Ashraf continued, “As well as being able to store an infinite amount of files without the need for physical space, choosing to digitise microfiche documents means that more people can view the information that they store with ease. Rather than being limited to accessing the library or archive where the microfiche is stored, using a bulky desktop reader to read the text, we can convert your microfiche documents into digital files that can easily be viewed and uploaded online for instant remote access.”

Pearl Scan’s dedicated scanning bureau is equipped with the latest industry machinery, capable of scanning microfilm roll, cartridge microfilm, jacket microfiches and microfiche slides or sheets. After digitising the microfiche files these can be converted to PDF, TIFF and JPG formats. Pearl Scan also converts any file into a fully text searchable document using OCR technology, for instant retrieval of documents. 

Tennessee Library Microfilm Scanning Project

microfiche scanning

Tennessee Library in Process of Scanning 1 Million Pages of Microfilm

While the smell of musty paper and the sound of flicking pages is one of the most endearing qualities of a library, an increasing number of establishments are choosing to go digital. Across the globe a myriad of lending and reference libraries are beginning to digitise microfilm collections in a bid to safeguard against damage and enhance availability. Tennessee’s John C. Hodges Library is at the forefront of the trend, kick-starting the daunting task of digitising the 4,000 feet of physical materials that exist within its extensive archives.

Taking on the archives one page at a time

The project is a page by page process that’s captured the attention of worldwide media due to its sheer scale. Some of the documents date back to 1841 which means the collection encompasses almost 200 years of history! Alesha Shumar is the university’s official archivist, saying, “Within the university archives, we actively collect published and unpublished works by students, faculty, departments, programs, research centers and institutes on campus.”

Of course, a systematic approach is essential, with the most heavily requested material elevated to the top of the scanning priority list. “At this time, we are making available born digital archival material as well as scanning our most heavily requested physical material from the archives,” says Shumar.

From academic to civil, digitisation has arrived!

Knox County Public Library is another US establishment getting on-board the digital archiving bandwagon. Mary Pom Claiborne, director of marketing and community relations asserts that the library is currently in the process of converting its microfilm newspaper into digital format. This will eliminate the risk of deterioration as well as offer local researchers access to historic documents, at their fingertips.

“Right now, the only way to view old newspapers would be to come down to a place like the library or the library at UT or ETSU and view the microfilm through the computers that we have,” says Claiborne.

Digitisation will also make the search process fast and efficient, featuring a variety of search parameters including dates, events and themes. “If you’re looking for more general information — like what Knoxville fashion was like in the 1950s — you can now search for that information and look at ads in the newspaper from that time,” she adds.

The benefits of digitalising microfilm collections are immense, however the process is not cheap. The average cost sits at around 65 cents a page which means fundraising is always a popular option for both academic, state and independent libraries. Tracking down the best deals on professional scanning services is also an essential part of making funds stretch as far as possible.