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The history of fiche/film scanning

This is the first of a weekly series of five blogs, shining the spotlight on fiche/film scanning. This week's blog looks at the history of microforms, then over the next few week's we'll look at what they are actually made from; how you need to look after them; why digitalisation is the best way to protect the data stored in microform and finally, an interview with our microfilm/fiche specialist.

Throughout the series we'll include an email link to ask our specialist any microform questions you may have, and we'll endeavour to cover as many as possible in the interview at the end of the series.


The history of fiche/film scanning


Despite being viewed as an outdated way of storing information, most organisations still hold microfilm and/or microfiche.

Microphotography started back in 1839 by a photography hobbyist John Dancer, who did little in the way of documenting his work. However, his work gained notoriety and in 1851 there is the first documented reference to microphotography being a useful way of storing a document. However, around that time microphotography was still met with much condescension, and in the 1985 Dictionary of Photographers the practice was described as "somewhat trifling and childish".

In 1958 Rene Dagron was granted the first patent for microfilm, as he pursued its commercial use. During the Franco Prussian War the patent was used to allow carrier pigeons to transport messages across German lines to the besieged city of Paris.

This tentative start continued until the 1920s when New York City Banker George McCarthy was issued a patent for his Checkograph machine, designed to make permanent film copies of bank records. In 1928 Eastman Kodak bought the invention and sold it under Kodak's Recordak Division.

Recordak expanded its use and in 1935 started publishing the New York Times in microfilm.

In 1938 a significant milestone was reached as American libraries and institutions began using microforms for archiving. This included newspapers and Harvard University Library (who still do this today with its Foreign Newspaper project) and the founding of University Microfilms, who commercially microfilmed doctoral dissertations.

During WWII microphotography played a big part in espionage and military mail, with mail sent in small form to be reproduced at the correct size by the receiver.

The war also brought with it the threat of records, documents and archives being destroyed through the fighting. This threat brought an urgency to archiving and as the war finished, there was a flurry of microfilming.

The 1970s carried another microfilming surge, as information exploded, and the need to archive was forced to be as cheap as possible. The advent of portable lap readers also made fiche and film more accessible.

The improved technology of the 1970s also increased computer microform applications.


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