So, worried about the long-term survival of digitized documents? Here’s your answer:

Schielke and Rauber’s solution is to switch everything over to a format called microfilm, a 200-year-old technology which stores information as tiny images and can be read with nothing more than a good magnifying glass. Microfilm can last for over 500 years if it is stored properly, and using a barcode system allows error-free storage densities of around 14 kilobytes per image, say Schielke and Rauber. The information is easily re-digitized, saving us from the strained eyes and late nights previous generations experienced hunkered over microfilm at the library.

First of all, anyone who has actually used microfilm will tell you that this is the worst idea any human beings have had since the Paleolithic era. And anyone who has not used microfilm should just go and read Nicholson Baker’s Double Fold. There are any number of things wrong with that book, but his critique of microform technologies is spot-on.

UPDATE: My friend Matt Frost points out that there are significant differences between the old microfilm and new machine-readable microfilm, which I certainly should have noted, but I hear from some librarians that the readability of the new stuff is not reliable, and that there are still the same storage and viewing problems that Baker points out in his book. But I would love to have better information about this, even if it means making a mockery of my mockery of microfilm. If you follow my drift.


  1. Oh so true. We hate microfilm. The students can't figure out how to work it, and nobody else WANTS to work it, the quality is bad, and it's terribly time-consuming. And if your citation isn't precise then you end up trying to browse, which has been known to induce motion-sickness. It's one of those things you periodically have to deal with, like taxes, but unless it's absolutely necessary you'd really Rather Not.

Comments are closed.