Scanning Microfilm

microfilm / microfiche

If you every want to feel old just find the local college student and ask them about the library. They have never used microfiche to look up a book in the stacks. If they have ever seen microfiche it is an old television show with the detective looking up old newspaper articles. The days of microfilm are mostly behind us.

Microfilm/microfiche was developed to store a large volume of documents in a smaller format. Similar to today’s digital images, microfilm is just a picture of the document. The difference is that the image is stored on a film negative. The negatives are viewed using equipment that blows the image up on a screen. The one advantage is that in a pinch you can use an eye glass to look at the image if there is light shining through. It is not the most useful format but if tit was some limited information that was needed then it could be accessed.

The three most common formats are microfilm, microfiche, and aperture cards. Microfilm is just a roll of images. They can be of various lengths depending on how many pages were stored. The second form is microfiche. These are the sheets that libraries used to store card catalogs and newspapers. Each sheet of microfiche holds 98 pages of documents. The third common type are aperture cards. They are a single sheet embedded in a punch card. These were used to hold technical drawings. If you have a hard time finding a machine to read microfilm then take a moment to remember the last time (if ever) you used a punch card machine.

The replacement to microfilm are digital records. You do loose the ability to read them without a machine but there are other advantages. The first is that the material can be shared at the speed of the internet. If it is a public archive then it opens up the documents to anyone who is doing research. And on the other side the documents can be locked down to specific users. The documents can now be backed up to an alternate location to prevent loss from a disaster.

The process for converting microfiche to digital is very straight forward. It is just a scanner that works with negatives instead of papers. The same post processing of OCR and redaction is also an option depending on your needs.

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