Microfilm, Microfiche, and Aperture Cards: Use ‘Em or Lose ‘Em?

A Quick Intro
Preservation and protection of rare and deteriorating documents is considered one of the most important purposes of microforms. Microforms, which include microfilmmicrofiche and aperture cards, are rolls or pieces film that contain miniature photographic copies of documents like newspaper or magazine pages.

A Brief History 
In 1851, the invention of the microphotograph, a photograph so small it could only be viewed with a microscope, was the precursor and inspiration for microfilm. The patent for microfilm was granted shortly after, in 1859. One major use of microfilm was during the Franco-Prussian War in the 1880’s when microfilm messages were transported by carrier pigeons across German lines to Paris.

Commercial microfilm was first used in the early 1920’s when the Checkograph was invented, which made permanent microfilm copies of all bank records. In 1928, Eastman Kodak bought the Checkograph and began filming and publishing the New York Times in microfilm. In the 1930’s microforms began to be used for archival preservation because original newspapers and magazines were rapidly deteriorating and difficult to store.

During World War II, microfilm was utilized extensively for espionage, military mail and letters sent overseas. World War II also brought a threat of destruction to records of civilization, which prompted the microfilming of massive amounts records, documents and archives.

Because of increased funding and improved technology the expansion of microform use was encouraged not only archival purposes but as an alternative to bulky, expensive print materials. Improved film, readers, viewers, reader-printers, and portable lap readers made this more also encouraged this immensely.

Today microforms are still used to preserve and archive documents, but at the same time, many rolls of microfilm and microfiche cards are being scanned and digitized so their content can be viewed, shared and stored digitally. There are a variety of both advantages and disadvantages to using microforms, most of which are listed below.


  • Microforms are stable document storage mediums with a life expectancy of 500 years when properly processed. 
  • Compared to paper documents, microforms can reduce storage space by up to 95% 
  • Prints from microforms are accepted in legal proceedings as substitutes for original forms. 
  • Images on microforms cannot be changed. 
  • They enable libraries to increase access to rare, fragile and valuable documents without putting them at risk of theft or damage. 
  • Since microforms contain actual images of original data, no software is needed to decode data. 
  • They are virtually impossible to mutilate, as pages cannot be torn or defaced. 
  • Containing document duplicates, microforms have low value and are unattractive to thieves.
  • Microform duplicates are cheaper to distribute than paper copies. 


  • While microforms take up less space than paper documents, they still consume physical space.
  • They must be manually accessed for retrieval. 
  • Microforms cannot be printed, emailed or faxed without manual intervention. 
  • Microforms cannot be read with the naked eye and require specialized equipment to be read. 
  • Photographic illustrations reproduce poorly in microform format, with loss of clarity and halftones. 
  • Conventional photocopy machines cannot be used to duplicate images. 
  • Color microform is very expensive, making most microforms available in only black and white. 
  • It is easy to misfile microforms, resulting in some libraries storing microforms in restricted areas and retrieving them only on demand. 
  • Reading microfilms on a machine may cause headaches and/or eyestrain. 

With the era of Electronic Document Management upon us, many think that microforms are an obsolete way of storing documents. However, their security and stability could keep microforms ranked as a viable form of document storage for many years to come. 

For more information about microforms or any other document management solution information please visit biels.com or follow us on Twitter @BielsDM.
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