Throwback Thursday: Microfilm and microfiche

The inspiration for this week's Throwback Thursday post came from some visiting students from China.

Last week, Scholastic hosted 40 students, ages 7–12 in our New York City headquarters from Shanghai. Between a read aloud with Clifford and Klutz activities, our librarian Deimosa took groups of students down to the Archives for a tour. One of the things she showed the students were rolls of microfilm and microfiche sheets.

The students were pretty transfixed by these, and I realized I probably hasn't used a microfilm machine since I was in grammar or middle school. Due to the rise of computers, I assumed these tools were pretty much obsolete and not used often anymore. Deimosa explained to me that in the Scholastic Library, that was most definitely not the case. However, Deimosa also told me that her Library interns hadn't heard of microfilm either, just like the younger students from China! I decided this older technology would be the focus of this week's post.

First, let's make sure everyone knows what we're talking about. Microfilm and microfiche are small photographic images of pages from magazines, newspapers, books and journals. Microfilm is in a reel format, while microfiche are sheets. Both of these formats pre-date computers, and are placed in a special machine which blows up the images on a screen which the user can then scroll though.

Microfilm:

Microfiche:

A drawer full of microfiche:

A microfilm/fiche machine:

So, if we have a copy of almost everything we've ever published in our Archive, AND computers exist, the question is: why do we still have microfilm/fiche? Deimosa explained that if items in the Archive are old and delicate (which a lot of them are!), sometimes the slightest touch can damage them. Even the oils in your hands can damage the paper, no matter how little you actually handle them. Microfilm/fiche allows us to look through these materials without ever having to touch them. (And functionally, both are much easier to flip through to locate specific articles than our actual bound volumes.)

Most of what we have in the Scholastic Archive on microfilm/fiche are our classroom magazines. Deimosa told me we use the microfilm/fiche a lot for magazine anniversaries–like Teacher Magazine (formerly Instructor), which recently celebrated its 125th anniversary. Preparing for this anniversary meant employees had to browse through old magazines that went as far back as 1891! Using microfilm/fiche made that process a lot easier.

I think this will technically be a two-parter Throwback Thursday post. When we return in two weeks, we'll explore another great tool used frequently by our librarians: the card catalog!

Special thanks to Librarian Deimosa Webber-Bey for her ongoing help with this series!

Gina Asprocolas