Change happens… Nobody puts baby in the corner!

Don't put baby in the corner

Microform* Reader Printer

While retrieving items from the book store, I spied our microfiche-reader-printer, squirreled away in a corner, hemmed in by a photocopier and other large objects. I’ve passed it hundreds of times in the last few years, without mentally registering that it was there. How the mighty have fallen! In days gone by, this proud machine had a large office all to itself and was visited several times a day to read and print either microfiche or microfilm.

Discussions and debates about the currency of microform usage can be viewed on the internet and in library periodicals. Cost, preservation, long-term storage safety, upgrading of media, availability of hardware and skilled staff are all elements, argued and counter-argued. I trawled through a few debates, but it reminded me of watching a close game of table tennis, with one professional knocking down another’s argument and vice versa. Others would weigh in to support one or the other. Each argument sounding convincing in its own way, here are but a few of the comments.

  • Microfilm incurs film and developing costs, greater than digital storage devices.
  • Cheaper storage devices are unreliable.
  • Microform is safer for long term storage and preservation.
  • Analog is dying.
  • Microfilm needs to be transferred to digital
  • Metadata may be lost or changed when upgrading.
  • New technology has sophisticated methods for transferring data.
  • Old hardware takes up too much space.
  • Fewer staff have the skills to store microform properly.
19th century documents.

19th century documents.

New hardware is often heralded as being “The One”, the replacement for paper. That’s what happened in our library in the 1970s, when we received a huge donation of journals on microfiche and film. The word was, we would have a paperless library within ten years. A refrain echoed in today’s digital age. Books are dead! Paper has been around for a thousand years, in spite of different media formats. Will it be around for another thousand? What do you think?

British Library Microfiche 1986.

British Library Microfiche 1986.


Unlike newspaper or government libraries, our microform collection bit the dust some time ago. I’m sure I was the last person to actually print from it, and that was at least eight years ago. The toner was exceptionally expensive and the copies weren’t of high quality.


Still  capable of being used to read microfiche, the print facility is no longer required. Waiting for rescue, “baby” sits in the corner hoping that a “Patrick Swayze” will take notice.

Microform* see Wikipedia site for more information,




4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. bernietgardiner
    May 28, 2014 @ 10:21:38

    Very interesting post and lovely photos. It was mentioned by one of the speakers at a recent Patron Driven Acquisitions seminar that while undergraduates continually use eBooks etc. they often have a preference for print format of textbooks. eBooks are excellent and the next generation take them as a given but it’s good to see print is still valued also. The Microfilm/fiche reader is perhaps still needed to read/print some material not available in any other format.



    • Carricklass
      May 30, 2014 @ 14:23:29

      Bernie, I really appreciate your comments. The encouragement is welcome. Your comment on PDA is really interesting and prompted me to visit your blog. I’ll have to have a word with colleagues here and see what their views on PDA are. As for the Microfilm/fiche reader, even though it can’t print, I’m all for keeping it. Sometimes, we receive ILLs in microfiche format, so it can’t be relegated to the scrap yard, yet.



  2. Rosemary C
    May 28, 2014 @ 09:32:58

    I think It all comes down to familiarity. The new generation of school kids being given ipads to work from in the classroom and to take home won’t be interested in reading in paper form. The older generation of current library users find it difficult to not choose the paper format. It is not helped by the choice and complexity of the newer technologies. A problem which was also often encountered with the introduction of microfiche.



    • Carricklass
      May 30, 2014 @ 14:27:18

      Rosemary, thank you for your thought provoking comment. It will be interesting to see how this iPad generation view books in the future. I do think that the technology will eventually become standardised, just as CD-Roms and videos did in the past, though by definition, that suggests that the present forms will in turn be replaced.



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