23 October 2006

I hate microfiche.

I would like to take a moment to declare and expound upon my hatred for microfiche. Microfiche and the associated microfilm have been an extraordinarily popular means for a few decades now to store large numbers of documents in a small space. Naturally this appeals to librarians who have invested an inordinate amount of money in storing fiche of documents like government reports and unpublished dissertations.

As a researcher I despise microfiche. Fiche can only be read by magnifying readers which cost oodles of money for the expensive optics involved. No sane library would let a person take fiche off of the premises because they are expensive and hard to replace. Furthermore, it’s unlikely that a patron will have a fiche reader handy at home. The only way to make fiche documents easily readable is to photocopy them with a fiche printer. Unsurprisingly, libraries charge ridiculous amounts of money per page for these copies. (At Hamilton Library it’s 10¢ per page, 3¢ more than an ordinary copy.) Of course libraries have good reason to do so, since the toner and readers cost a lot and there is a limited market for them.

The most irritating thing however is that computing technology has advanced to the point where it’s very easy to convert microfiche to digital form. A halfway decent scanner capable of 2400 dpi or better can produce images of 8.5×11 inch pages at 300 dpi which is perfectly readable onscreen in a PDF. The process is not easily automated however, unless you can afford the überexpensive “microfiche scanner” which is basically a flatbed scanner with a very small sheet feeder and some software that knows how to crop pages in the scan.

Right now I have several >200 page fiches of various dissertations that I need to use regularly. I can’t afford to go into the library every day just to read them, and 200 pages at 10¢ per page is nothing like cheap, particularly when it means sitting at the reader for four or five hours, and the cost doesn’t include the inevitable mistakes and duplicates. $30 or $40 just for making copies is pretty painful, particularly when you know that you’ll spend a stupid amount of time making them.

I’m thinking of asking if I can borrow the flatbed scanner from the Linguistics Dept. computer lab. Then I can take it to the library, hook it up to my laptop, and do the scans right there. Maybe 10 min per fiche scan, most of it spent doing other things while the scanner runs. At seven or eight fiche, this is only a couple hours of time. Much less than the 20 hours it would take for individual copies, and much much cheaper. I can just carry the scans around on my computer, print out whatever pages I want, and not worry about needing to go back for replacement copies. The real question is whether the library will let me do this. And if so, why the heck don’t they get a scanner themselves?


Blogger Catanea said...

I see this is a very old post, of course; but I've had amazing luck (working with medieval manuscripts) just taking relatively high resolution, non-flash digital photos. Also FASTER than scanning, and less noisy.

28 April, 2013 07:45  

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