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    Why Is It?
    Microform Versus Microfiche: Is There A Difference?
    Candace Miller, Reference Librarian

     A fairly common reference question that library users ask me is “What is a microform?  Is it the same thing as a microfiche?” Microform is the generic term for any type of micro record.  Of course, this begs the question: What is a micro record? The Librarian’s Glossary defines a micro record as: A copy of a document, the scale of which is reduced compared with the original and which needs an enlarger to enable it to be legible.”

    Microfiche are small flat sheets of photographic film.  This format is used for a wide variety of materials.  Back issues of magazines and certain government publications are only two of the resources that Carrier Library has on microfiche.  

    Microfilm is a roll of photographic film.  The library orders many of its newspaper back issues in microfilm.  If you’re a fan of old espionage movies, this is the technology the movie spies used. Remember how they photographed the enemy’s documents with their special little cameras then handed little rolls of film over to their superiors at Spy Headquarters? That was microfilm. 

    Ultrafiche is a super-duper type of microfiche.  They have such small images that one 4 inch by 6 inch sheet can accommodate up to 3,000 pages of images.  Because the images are so small, ultrafiche requires a special lense if you’re using a standard microfiche reader. Carrier Library has several ultrafiche sets including the Library of American Civilization.


    Microcards are opaque cards that require a special reader.  They are similar to microfiche in that they have greatly reduced images arranged in rows.  Because microcards are opaque, you can’t print copies off microcard images unlike microfiche or microfilm images.  This is an obsolete technology but we have a few valuable resources in this format such as Landmarks of Science so we’re holding onto our microcard readers.  Besides, twenty years from now, they’ll be antiques.  We might be able to sell them to the Smithsonian and recoup our repair expenses.  

    So these are the four types of microforms Carrier Library owns: microfiche, microfilm, ultrafiche and microcards.  Look at this way; the word microform is like the word truck.  You have vans, tractor semi-trailers, and concrete mixers.  They’re different types of vehicles but all are considered trucks.  

    You’re probably wondering why we still have microforms.  Surely, all of this stuff is available on computer now?  While we’re acquiring more and more resources electronically, some resources won’t be available electronically anytime soon.  Microfiche and microfilm will probably be with us for at least another decade.  But then, my track record in future predictions isn’t all that great.  Twenty years ago when asked, I confidently asserted that the demise of the Soviet system wouldn’t occur within my lifetime.  So you should probably take my predictions about microforms with a grain of salt.   

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