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How To Convert Microfiche to PDF

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Converting microfiche to PDF can be a tricky business especially as a PDF is a modern small-scale storage method for documents while microfiche is technically it's grandfather; imagine trying to teach your grandfather how to use a computer and that's the kind of compatibility that we're looking at.

Converting microfiche to PDF by using a commercial scanner with negative scanning add ons sadly will not work as those add-ons are made to fit with negatives whilst microfiche, whether 16mm or 35mm are completely the wrong shape and are too small.

Because microfiche have these days become something of a niche item, it's become increasingly hard to find anything that works well with them including readers and viewers, let alone printers.

The only really acceptable way to convert a microfiche to PDF is by using a company that can do it for you (like Pearl Scan's microfiche scanning). This is usually a lot quicker and considerably cheaper than trying to solve the problem for yourself. Most of these companies offer this service relatively cheaply from pennies per image. However when converting your microfiche into PDF you should keep in mind that the output is only as good as the content of the fiche itself. Although microfiche are incredibly resilient and are even to this day fantastic ways of storing documents especially with a rumoured 500 year life putting them head and shoulders above any other form of storage media, they are often not put together very well or the initial import of images onto the fiche was poorly done. This can't be helped by the company that convert to PDF but it is said that having digitised versions of the files contained on microfiche does make them clearer in comparison to looking at them using a microfiche viewer.

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Do You Really Need a Microfiche Machine?

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If you're amongst the thousands of individuals or, more likely, organisations that find themselves with hundreds or thousands of microfiche but have nothing to use them with, the first thing that probably comes to your mind is to find out more about a microfiche machine, a machine that offers you the chance to view the microfiche, not dissimilar to those you see in large libraries. But is it really necessary?

The Microfiche Machine

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A typical microfiche machine

Microfiche machines, or microfiche readers / microfiche viewers as they are more commonly known, used to be very easy to get hold of since, at the time, microfiche were amongst the most popular ways of storing a significant amount of files in a small area. As we've mentioned in previous posts about the history of the microfiche, microfiche were in effect the external hard drives of their day, allowing you to store away hundreds of files and documents without having to use the space that they would take in their full physical form.

However as time and innovation rolls on as frantically as it has over the last 100 years, microfiche were replaced over a short period of time as people started to rely on computers more and use the links of floppy disks, then CDs, then flash memory etc. This obviously left the microfiche market, such as it was, in ruins and microfiche machines were all but stopped being made with the exception of a few select companies that still make them to this day as niche items. As with most specialist niches, there isn't a huge deal of demand so the cost of the microfiche reader rises. Microfiche machines now sell for anything between £3,000-10,000, which is an astonishing amount of money for a machine of its type and, to pour salt into the wounds, most readers are simply limited to just viewing images unlike modern counterparts like computer systems which allow you to view, edit, print and email images and documents with ease.

microfiche-scanner

Microfiche Machine vs Microfiche Scanning

These days, a lot of document scanning companies tend to offer microfiche scanning on top of regular document conversion. These companies normally have a number of microfiche scanners which can take the negative image and convert it into a digital one which is then exported as PDF. JPEG, TIFF or any other fairly popular image / document formats. On top of this after the scanning is completed, if the microfiche consist of documents, the documents can be put through OCR. OCR, or optical character recognition makes your flat documents into a fully text-searchable file which makes it very useful for searching for particular references or names.

Once a microfiche image is made digital, the rest is pretty much history since a standard microfiche machine simply cannot keep up with what is offered such as the ability to view the images with better clarity, the previously mentioned OCR, sharing the documents, emailing them, printing them and basically doing anything with them that you can do with any type of document you use on a computer.

The costs of a microfiche machine compared to scanning

On top of all this, you don't have to pay for a rather large piece of equipment that is, essentially, already obsolete. As mentioned before they can upwards of £10,000 for a very good one and £3,000 for a relatively basic one.

Talking of costs, microfiche scanning is relatively cheap to make things a little better. Microfiche are typically scanned here in the UK for between 10p to £1 per image from our research, but the £1 is a high end price. So you can see that it simply makes sense to go with microfiche scanning above a machine.

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Document Scanning by Pearl Scan


The Scan-do Peopletm

For more information feel free to give us a call: 
Nationwide: 0845 22 55 923         London: 0207 183 1885
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Why Going Digital Is Superior to Microfilming

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Below is a video we discovered recently which shows the process of how the State Library of South Australia archives their newspapers via microfilming. Take a look:

 

The library itself clearly puts a lot of time and effort into the process and it's nice to see the methods in which they do this. However it does raise a number of questions and a number of points as to why this isn't necessarily the best way to go about archiving newspapers and other historically important documentation. Whilst microfilm was once a brilliant and forward-thinking method of archiving documents and important records, they have been surpassed in many ways, all of which we will look at in the below sections, also looking at the positive aspects of microfilming.

Shelf life

shelf-life

As this video so rightly puts the shelf life of microfilm is around 500 years. This is confirmed by many sources including in this interesting article by e-conservation magazine, which explores the use of microfilm in libraries. However another valid point about this shelf life is that they must be correctly and consistently stored in acid-free boxes and in a room that is at the right temperature and an environment that doesn't change. Whilst we're sure that an organisation such as the State Library of South Australia will follow this as carefully as their microfilming process itself, there will be many that don't and this will cut the shelf life significantly. 

Why digital is better...

Whilst it would still be better than that of paper which is supposedly around 100 years, again if kept and stored correctly, we have seen many microfilms that have been sent to us in poor condition almost entirely based on the fact that they haven't been stored well. But this is also precisely why going digital is a better answer these days than the rather obsolete method of microfilming.

Digital images such as JPEG, TIFF and PDF can last for as long as are needed, infinity if they're kept in the right places and backed up and that's a shelf life that can't be topped by microfim or anything else.

 


Time Taken

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Although the above video may show an exceptional organisation, this has been a process that so far has been in operation since the 1960′s, over 50 years. But it's not just about how long it has taken, but also everything else that is involved with that; the need to update technology and equipment over the years. There are at least ten members of staff shown in the above video on this entire process which in comparison to what is available these days is elongated and procrastinating. On top of this, the frame-by-frame inspection is a huge consumer of time.

Why digital is better...

For this entire process, which takes the time of at least ten members of staff, two or three members of staff would do all the work at a professional document / microfilm scanning company.

To go beyond the initial creation of the microfilms themselves, the time taken in searching them and finding what is required with digital would simply wipe the floor with any microfilm reader that patrons of the library or organisation would and would be far less demanding and intimidating. We are used to computers and would always head for a desktop or laptop and not a bulky microfilm reader. Plus with OCR technology being constantly perfected, newspapers can be made fully text-searchable these days after the scanning of the newspapers to digital images is done. This will save patrons a lot of time searching through microfilms for particular references and would need less help from members of staff in the library itself.

 

Space

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Whilst microfilms themselves were made to cut space, and were brilliant at it for a long time, nothing can beat a digital file with no physical preference. To top off the general upkeep required of the microfilm, as well as the ideal storage locations and care, a microfilm collection spanning this many newspapers will take a huge amount of room.

Why digital is better...

Digital documents don't exist in the physical sense, therefore they take no room other than space on a computer hard-drive. However documents and newspapers can be stored on a central server where all computers in the library can reach all records at any time from one place, or images can also be stored online offering the ability to search beyond patrons who come to the library itself.


Equipment

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As previously mentioned, over the years the equipment in the above example will have been replaced several times and now that microfilming and the area of microfilm is becoming obsolete, parts are harder to find, are costly and new machines prices rise due to a lack of demand. To top this off microfilming machines tend to be sensitive items which are hard to keep up, even modern examples such as the Zeutschel OK301 mentioned in the above video (albeit not that modern). The Kodak MRD also mentioned as 'old technology' still retails today for at least $5000.

Why digital is better...

To digitise the library would be a one-off cost, and a pretty reasonable one, prices in the UK varying from 10p to 60p per page for the entire digitisation process, no further obscure and obsolete machinery or parts required in the future. With digital images the files will also be easier to use and more flexible, allowing them to be copied with greater ease, printed, saved, emailed and anything else you can do with a digital document.


Another argument: Why microfilming is better...

It might look like we have a big problem with microfilming and that it should be replaced immediately. We don't, we simply believe there is a better way in almost every conceivable fashion. However it is understandable as to why organisations such as the State Library of South Australia would continue to use a system like this, the main one being consistency. When the process was started in the 1960s digital documents didn't exist, in fact the first scanned image only happened in 1957, but wasn't mainstream until the 1990s. Although the opportunity to archive in a more modern way has probably shown itself, consistency was probably quite a large factor when making a decision; why have a room of microfilms and then have the rest of the images digitally? It was possibly also a matter of already having systems, staff and equipment in place to not change things too much.

On the above video's comments section the library themself say that they don't have the resources to archive digitally, however to reposition the staff used for this process would be more than enough to go about digitising and library and another option is to buy scanning equipment the next time a funding review is due.

Perhaps we are biased in our views since, as a business, we digitise documents and microfilms but it's hard to argue with the fact that they offer ease of use, better value and an overall sense of modern progress in a world that is becoming increasingly digital.

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Document Scanning by Pearl Scan


The Scan-do Peopletm

For more information feel free to give us a call: 
Nationwide: 0845 22 55 923         London: 0207 183 1885
Manchester: 0161 832 7991         Birmingham: 0121 285 1900

 

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