Before the digital age, microfiche was the only way for people to store volumes of printed material. This miniature photographic film (measuring just 4 by 5 inch (or 10.2 by 15.2 cm) was able to hold photos, newspaper articles, books and cultural documents that had been scanned and then reduced to a much smaller size. For people to view these items, they had to look at the microfiche through a special tool that would enlarge the data.
All libraries had a microfiche section, which enabled them to carry materials which they ordinarily would not have the space for. The microfiche was normally placed in large storage cabinets, which were appropriately filed and coded for easy access.
Microfiche also enabled institutions to preserve documents that were too fragile to be handled on a regular basis. The archival properties of microfiche meant that under proper temperature the microfiche copies could last for about 500 years.
The stability of microfiche data secures its place in data preservation even in the advent of digital technology. While people can now store volumes of data in CD-roms or hard drives, these mediums are much more sensitive and prone to damage. A CD can be scratched, and when it is constantly accessed or passed around, there is a risk for “wearing out” or what techies call “information drop-out” (when certain data sectors can’t be read by the computer). Microfiche is sturdier.
However, CD-ROMs are rewritable; information can be added easily. It can also be read with a personal computer. Data can also be printed or manipulated. Microfiche is permanent, and requires a special tool to read. It can’t be enlarged, nor can it copied with a regular photocopying machine.
One disadvantage of microfiche is that it requires a special reader to enlarge the type size. These machines are expensive. Microfiche also cannot be enlarged and copied on a photocopy machine, and is harder to index.