Microfiche is a thin, flat sheet of transparent photographic film that contains a grid of small-scale reproductions of printed matter. Microfiche sheets are small (105 millimeters by 148 millimeters), and the miniaturized images they contain are typically reduced to 4% (1/25) of their original size. These tiny photographs are too small to read with the naked eye, so there are reading machines that magnify the images on a display screen.
- In temperature-controlled storage, microfiche lasts up to 500 years.
- John Benjamin Dancer, an optician by trade and inventor by hobby, began producing microphotographs in England in 1839. He was able to realize a 160:1 reduction ratio, but he viewed his own work as nothing more than a novelty.
- The microfilming process was standardized and patented in 1859 by French optician René Dagron.
- One of the first practical uses of microphotography involved carrier pigeons. In the 1870s during the Franco-Prussian War, Dagron created microphotographs of official documents and private messages and sent them across enemy lines to Paris in small tubes affixed to a pigeon’s wing.
- Dagron created prints so small that a single pigeon could carry 20 of them at a time. Over 150,000 miniscule pieces of microfilm made it to Paris via carrier pigeon until the Prussians caught on and sent out falcons and hawks to intercept the pigeons.
What Is Microfiche Used For?
Microfiche is used to store and preserve documents in a durable and space-saving manner. Some common microfiche examples are newspaper articles, books, business records, and archives of scientific research data. Some large companies keep microfiche of legal or financial records.
What Is the Difference Between Microfilm and Microfiche?
Microform is the term for a miniaturized reproduction of a document. There are three main types of microforms: microfiche, microfilm, and aperture cards.
- Microfiche is a flat sheet of photographic film. A single sheet may hold tens of documents, and a file cabinet can hold numerous envelopes of microfiche.
- Microfilm is a strip of 16mm or 35mm film that’s stored on a reel. A roll of 16mm microfilm can hold up to 2,400 items, and up to 6,000 documents can be stored on a roll of 35mm microfilm. Reels are usually kept in boxes or similar containers.
- An aperture card is a punch card that can hold a single microfilm image in a window.
- Now obsolete, a microcard (a.k.a. micro-opaque) was a type of microform printed on a sheet of cardboard instead of film.
How Do You Read Microfiche?
While Dagron’s microfilmed messages were viewed with a rudimentary 19th-century projector (a “magic lantern”), there are now specialized machines called microfiche readers. Also called microform readers, these devices magnify and project microform images on a screen for the user to view. Most microfiche readers allow the user to adjust the zoom, change the focus, and rotate the images. Some readers also have printing capability.
Is Microfiche Still Used?
While microforms may seem like outdated technology compared to digital archives, there are many instances where microfiche is still used today. Most libraries, universities, and museums have at least one microfilm reader, allowing visitors to access documents, newspapers, and even classic comic books. Some of these locations also have scanning devices that allow microfiche images to be digitized. Microfiche offers some unique benefits:
- Rare and fragile documents can be enjoyed repeatedly without any risk to the original source material.
- Microform readers are fairly easy to use, and there is no software that requires updates.
- Microforms have much better longevity than other data storage devices such as CDs.
- It’s fairly inexpensive to produce microfilm copies of an original.
Microfiche also has its challenges.
- Microfiche can’t be viewed without a reader, and it may be hard to find one, especially in remote areas.
- Most microfiche images are in black and white, because color ink is not as durable.
- Microfiche records cannot be quickly shared via email or searched with a computer algorithm.
Even with its unique challenges, microfiche still offers many important advantages. It allows access to priceless archives of information and is one of the few technologies with an origin story that includes carrier pigeons.