What Exactly Are Microfiche Readers, and What Are They Used For?

November 15, 2017 7:03 pm Published by Leave your thoughts

Microfiche is a storage medium for visual data. Each microfiche is a sheet of film, which is filled with very small images that are each actually shrunken-down scans of entire pages of documents, reports or images. Microfiche can be read using a specialized piece of technology called a microfiche reader. To read the microfiche, you place the sheet into a glass-covered plate, where a lamp and magnifying lens project your image onto a screen that’s somewhat similar in appearance to a television.

How does it work?

A microfiche reader is fairly low tech. It is essentially a fancy magnifying glass. Images are magnified and then projected on the screen for you using mirrors. There is no encoding, no digital wizardry going on—it is just a machine that helps you see a very small image as if it is a larger image.

Microfiche is useful for consuming a lot of data very quickly. It’s also a great storage medium, as it allows you to combine dozens of pages onto a single page of film. This means that, even before the internet, using microfiche, small libraries could offer as much information as much larger libraries. This is how important research was able to get done, even at tiny little private colleges, before the internet came about.

Who uses it?

Microfiche is still used by the government, people in academia, scientists and businesses. There is just an abundance of information that was stored years ago on microfiche that cannot be accessed in any other way. If you are doing any type of research in which you have to build on the discoveries of others who came before you, odds are good that, if you go back far enough, you will be doing your research on microfiche.

Why do we still need it?

Besides still being extraordinarily useful, and actually still faster in some cases than researching using the internet, the main reason why we still need microfiche is that there is still such an abundance of important information which is stored on microfiche and nowhere else. The cost of converting all of those microfiche images back into larger images is prohibitively expensive and time consuming—especially when you consider that, despite perhaps being slightly less convenient than the internet, microfiche is still extremely usable and useful.


The primary drawbacks of microfiche are not seen in the usability of the data, but in the fact that the data on the microfiche is not digitally stored—meaning that nothing on the microfiche can be directly searched using search engines. Instead, you have to trust that some librarian in the past categorized the microfiche correctly, making it easy to locate using a catalogue system. This is the primary drawback of all physical media, though.

Another drawback is that, unlike digitally-stored information, microfiche deteriorates over time, meaning that eventually that data, if it is to be kept, will have to be digitized or duplicated. However, the shelf life of microfiche is still extremely lengthy, and with proper preservation and storage, data loss can largely be prevented.

Here at Microfilm Equipment and Supplies Inc., we’ve sold microfilm and microfiche readers for over 35 years, well before most of us had even heard the word “internet.” We have a wide range of knowledge related to microfilm and microfiche readers and scanners, so if you find yourself in need of answers, please do not hesitate to contact us.

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