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Writing, Illustrating & Publishing => Research => Topic started by: Lill on October 17, 2011, 05:16 AM

Title: Microfiche
Post by: Lill on October 17, 2011, 05:16 AM
If anybody has memories of using microfiche readers at the library will you please PM me or leave a comment here. I've googled around .. and found the basics ... but  I need to set a scene wherein the eleven year old protagonist and her teenage companion are at the library trying to look things up on microfiche. The librarians are a bit suspicious. I've used microfiche machines LOTS of times ... but I just don't remember the particulars ... other than asking for the film I needed and going in the little room and viewing it on the screen.

So I'm looking for details from people who are familiar with microfiche readers in libraries in the late 60's or early 70's.

Okay, I'm thinking maybe I'm looking more for microfilm ... memories of winding those boogers back and forth is coming back to me. It's a particularly tense scene, so I'm needing to get my details right.
Thank you.
Title: Re: Microfiche
Post by: literaticat on October 17, 2011, 05:42 AM
if I recall correctly (and it has been AT LEAST 20 years since I used one of these rascals, so I could be wrong...)

microfiche is "the easy one" -- the film is like one flat piece with a bunch of tiny images that you slip between glass plates and it "reads" it, and you can pan, enlarge, go back and forth between images, whatever, with the use of a simple dial or handle -- but it isn't the spools of madness. It is very simple to figure out once you have the right piece of film.

microfilm is "the complicated one" -- the film is actually reels that you have to wind. By the time I came around in the 80's, either they didn't use the reels much, or they didn't let kids use them, because I think I saw it done a couple times, but I never did it myself.
Title: Re: Microfiche
Post by: Jaina on October 17, 2011, 07:04 AM
As a kid, I'd go to the university library to research school projects (the university was three blocks away and my parents taught there).  We were allowed to use microfilm, my friends and I, but we had to have been at least 13 or so the first time we did.  We were all faculty brats and nerds, so I think we even went in for fun, sometimes, to look up our birth announcements in the newspaper.

I believe you had to load the cartridge on the machine (the librarian may have helped us the first time) sort of like a reel-to-reel with a screen underneath and then you had this forward/backward button you would push (this must have been around 1984, so the ones from earlier may have been different).  The screen was just a flat surface you watched as it was lit up by a lamp, like a film projector. 

The cartridge spanned a big time period--like a whole year's worth of the local paper?--and it took a lot of pushing that button to get to the part we wanted.  Push the button, stuff would fly by, the whole machine made a lot of noise.  Stop pushing the button, check the month/day of the paper, push the button again.  I believe when you got to what you wanted, you could hit something for printing that page, too.  Or ask the librarian.  I believe we got blurry copies of what we saw, at least once.

I just looked online and saw this picture.  This is not what we had but it does look like it's from the 60s/70s:

I guess the one we used was more like the bigger ones you see when you google search "microfilm machine" . . . this kind of looks familiar:

But I didn't remember a projected image like a TV.  I thought it was projected on a slanted service (sort of like a drafting desk) that only the person standing at the machine would see.  Ah, well.

I just looked up the same university library online and found that you can STILL go and view/print from microfilm in the basement.  Have you tried your local university?  You might be able to go use the very same machines they used back then.  You could ask them how old the machines are and what's the oldest machine they have, etc.
Title: Re: Microfiche
Post by: Jaina on October 17, 2011, 07:07 AM
Ah ha!  THIS may have been the machine I remember:
Title: Re: Microfiche
Post by: olmue on October 17, 2011, 07:11 AM
I've used them for genealogy within the past ten years, and my husband still uses them in his research (medieval stuff) through the university. Yes, the microfische is the flat piece of plastic that you lay under the reader, which projects it onto a screen (like a TV). You can usually print something from this. You shift the little tray around and zoom in to see what's on the fische.

The microfilm is a roll that you thread through the spools on the reader (and usually a librarian will want to do it, unless you are an adult who comes back often and you know how and they trust you.) You have to either push a button or manually turn a crank to advance the reel, and it shines it down onto a flat white slanted deskish thing. You can take a digital photo of that, or blow it up really big and trace it, or, if you use a special high-tech machine, you can also print out from microfilms. On that same machine, you can switch it to negative (so, white words on black) to help you see better.

They're big and awkward, but I guess the download time for high quality digital images is just as awkward when you are searching through a record. The added awkwardness of the microfilm/fische, of course, is that you have to order it or find it, then use their special machine during the hours they're open. It's not like you (or your characters) can sit at home and look things up.
Title: Re: Microfiche
Post by: Jean Reidy on October 17, 2011, 07:12 AM
Just PM'd you.

A fellow "ficher,"
Title: Re: Microfiche
Post by: AdamV on October 17, 2011, 08:41 AM
I had to use both machines when I worked at a library, but it was within the last ten years, so I don't know how hold the machines were. The microfilm machine seems to be the one you see in TV and movies, probably because the high-speed fast forwarding and rewinding looks interesting on the screen. I imagine librarians wouldn't like the thought of kids using it because there's always a chance of the film snapping at high speed.
Title: Re: Microfiche
Post by: Jaina on October 17, 2011, 08:50 AM
BTW, Lillian--in our (university) library, there wasn't a "little room"--all the microfilm/microfiche machines were in one big room, so the librarians really did get to see all the patrons using them at once.  Maybe this is why they let us (young teens) use them on our own.
Title: Re: Microfiche
Post by: AnneB on October 17, 2011, 01:07 PM
FWIW, a lot of the material that used to be archived on microfilm/fiche has been digitized and is available via the library's computer if the database is pd subscription only. You might want to build in an explanation why they have to use the equivalent of magic-lantern-technology to look stuff up (but not if your ms. is steampunk or set anytime up to the early 2000s).
Title: Re: Microfiche
Post by: Lill on October 17, 2011, 01:38 PM
Thanks all!  You're great! And yes, the story takes place about 40 years ago. :)
Title: Re: Microfiche
Post by: JennaWren on October 17, 2011, 05:41 PM
Lill, great question -- I have a similar scene going on, but have decided that since it's a contemporary setting, the library has gotten a grant to digitize old local papers!  Yay, anonymous donors!   :biggrin:
Title: Re: Microfiche
Post by: RebeccaL-G on October 17, 2011, 07:02 PM
I just used the microfilm machine three weeks ago at our local library to read newspapers from the 1930's for research.  Have you checked to see if your library still has one?  Where I live  only  the main library branch has it, but it is still very much in use. 
It has a lever to adjust the view up and down (you can't see the entire newspaper at once) and two knobs to adjust magnification and clarity.  You have to thread the film from the left spool through a glass plate and into the spool on the right, then hit the feed button which catches it onto the right spool.  It was a great big headache to use! It took me a half hour just to find the article I wanted on the film. The films have to be signed out with the librarian who sits and monitors that room.  They are kept in giant legal type file cabinets and labeled by year.  If you want to print you have to insert money into the machine next to it  and center the film so the area you want printed is inside the black corners (huge headache and lots of wasted money to get what I wanted to print)
I worked as a clerk at a university library while I was in college so I had some experience with these things and I still had trouble using  the blasted machine (30 years later), but the librarian was very patient and helpful. 
Title: Re: Microfiche
Post by: Lill on October 20, 2011, 05:09 AM
You guys are terrific!  I've had an incredibly busy week, and haven't had a chance to go through all this and respond to private messages. But oh ... you are tons of help!

Those of you who have used one recently ... are these the same as the 70's era machines?

Title: Re: Microfiche
Post by: CarrieF on October 20, 2011, 10:00 AM
I worked as a page in the periodicals department of our library in the 1980s, and dealt with a lot of microfilm machines. The descriptions people have given are pretty accurate. I can't remember how much the daily newspaper (Boston Globe) would have on each reel, it was not a lot. Maybe a month's worth? The boxes would have the dates printed on the outside and were kept in special drawers that held maybe 200 boxes.

The machines were kind of temperamental. If either reel was not loaded exactly right onto the spools, the film would fly all over the table when the knob was turned to advance it, and then the reel had to be rewound by hand (my job). They would also sometimes overheat and have to be turned off for a while. It could also get jammed if the film was not perfectly aligned on the uptake reel because the roll of film would grow sideways and block the movement of the spool (think about trying to re-roll toilet paper that's been unrolled -- it always ends up as more of a cone shape than a cylinder.) You could make a photocopy of whatever was on the screen by pressing a button (cost: 10 cents). The film was pretty sturdy and I never experienced it snapping, but you did have to be careful when reaching the end of a reel not to advance too quickly or the film could get pulled off the reel.


Title: Re: Microfiche
Post by: RebeccaL-G on October 20, 2011, 06:46 PM
Quote from: lillian link=topic=59276.msg688025#msg688025 date=1319112566

Those of you who have used one recently ... are these the same as the 70's era machines?

Lillian: I believe so.  It looked like the machine I used back in 1981 at the university.  The copies cost more now, but other than that I'd say it was the same.  I recall it being 5 cents a copy back in the day.  I have memories of having to get rolls of nickels for research.   It was 25 cents a couple of weeks ago. 
Title: Re: Microfiche
Post by: Michaela MacColl on October 21, 2011, 07:12 PM
I just used a microfilm machine last month... don't forget the noise! They are very loud, and the faster you go the noisier they get. I'm always terrified that the film is going to split and the last records of the newspapers from 1840 is going to go with it!  Also when you get the end, the film on the pick up reel comes off with a slap...

Title: Re: Microfiche
Post by: RebeccaL-G on October 21, 2011, 08:57 PM

I just used a microfilm machine last month... don't forget the noise! They are very loud, and the faster you go the noisier they get. I'm always terrified that the film is going to split and the last records of the newspapers from 1840 is going to go with it!  Also when you get the end, the film on the pick up reel comes off with a slap...

"So true!  Very loud.  I also feared I was going to break the film and imagined myself responsible for the loss of an entire month worth of 1939 local newspapers.  I pictured my name and photo on the librarian's banned list. Or at the very least always hearing librarians whisper to one another behind my back "There she is, Sylvia.  Watch her like a hawk."   I also feared the end would hit me in the eye when rewinding and cause permanent damage the likes of which my mother warned me about when running with scissors.  Clearly imaginative minds think alike!  Computers are far easier and safer to use, but lack the same wild character!