Memories of Microfiche

In last night’s episode of NCIS, Agent Gibbs (Mark Harmon) cut into the bottom of a bookshelf and found a translucent rectangle the size of two side-by-side iPhones.  Agent McGee (Sean Murray) did not recognize it.  Gibbs remarked that he was holding a piece of microfiche, which he then likened to a flash drive.  Of all the analog-digital analogies I’ve heard, the microfiche-flash drive connection is by far my favorite.  Neither is better than the other, but they create very different experiences in terms of storing and viewing data.

In order to use a flash drive, one must have a computer that will recognize the device and read the saved files.  How many times have you had a computer tell you that it cannot open a certain drive because there is no device there even when you’ve put the drive into the USB port?  How many times have you put the flash drive into the USB port, heard the “blurp” sound and yet it doesn’t appear in My Computer or cannot be opened period?  No matter how much information you’ve been able to transfer to that tiny, ultra-portable flash drive, what good does it do if your computer won’t cooperate?

With microfiche, however, all you need is the fiche or film and a reader.  The problems that you may run into are easily resolved.  Bulb burned out?  Knob broken? Screen dirty? Go to a different machine.

True, if your computer can’t see the flash drive in one USB port, more than likely another port will work.  And in the instances where you don’t have another free port?  For anyone who knows how to work a microfiche machine, you probably learned how at your local public or university library.  If something wasn’t working, you could ask for help and the problem would be addressed quickly and effectively.  Remedies may not come about so readily when it comes to a flash drive.

I’ve used microfiche and microfilm many times over the years for research, mostly for old film reviews.  Illume at eight and I once spent the Friday afternoon of Spring Break in college looking through microfiche for a professor who needed to know whether or not and when Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing played in Staten Island movie theatres.  As I watched that scene in NCIS, I started feeling nostalgic.  I missed turning the knob and watching the fiche swish by across the screen.

How many of you have used a microfiche reader and what were you looking for?  What subjects?

Pic creds: here, here, and here.

7 thoughts on “Memories of Microfiche

  1. sekanblogger

    When I worked in engineering at a DOD contractor, many of the old drawings were on the stuff.
    It really is crap, it deteriorates much quicker than good ol’ velum or even paper.

    I hated the stuff.

    BTW, we made BOMBS. BIG BOMBS!

    1. sittingpugs Post author

      Yes, I’ve read one of the drawbacks of fiche is the deterioration. How quickly would it burn compared to paper?

      You don’t have to apologize, but I appreciate the gesture.

  2. The Mark

    The last time I used microfiche was for a paper I was writing on Arthur Miller’s, The Price. This had to be in the early 90’s. I remember the hassle of asking for it, having the librarian get it for me and then having to actually use it. What a pain.

    On the other hand, we lived through those times and we didn’t seem to mind at the time. Remember when CD’s first came out and how big the packaging was? It’s funny now but we didn’t think about it then.


    1. sittingpugs Post author

      Memories light the corners of my mind. Detectives and agents of the FBI and CIA are probably among the few groups of people that regularly must go the way of analog and look through boxes of papers and rolls of film to find information from yesteryear.

      And investigative journalists.

  3. jammer5

    I used microfiche years ago, prior to computers. Sometimes a pain, but mostly worked as it should.

    As for jump drives, I’ve never had a computer fail to recognize one. The only usb device I had that I had problems with was a golf caddy. It shows the distance to the pin on any course in memory. Finally got it to work, but a pain.

  4. Pingback: And Who Is Your Source? | Sitting Pugs: Sports Movies

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