Microforms: Uses and Potential* BY Jo ANN BELL, Director

Health Affairs Library East Carolina University Greenville, North Carolina ABSTRACT A general overview of microform usage in libraries is provided, emphasizing the impact of conversion of print materials to microforms on library patrons and library staff members. Diagnostic techniques are analyzed to determine the adaptability of both collections and clientele. Problems concerning the standardization of hardware, selection of the proper microform formats, and the use of silver halide, diazo, or vesicular films are discussed.

types of materials which are likely candidates for conversion to microformats should be a first step. Every library should look at its own situation in formulating such guidelines; however, the following criteria have been useful to one library: if a serial requires substantial physical space; is frequently mutilated, lost, or missing; is difficult or expensive to replace; is difficult to bind; is heavily used; or more than one copy is already being purchased, then it is a candidate for conversion

[3]. IN spite of the fact that microforms are more than a century old, and although the world of espionage early recognized the potential of microforms for transporting information, the usefulness of microforms as a means of preserving and transmitting information in libraries is still being debated. The concept of micropublishing in the United States dates from the 1860s, and practical micropublishing of scholarly works dates from the early 1900s [1]. In general, libraries have chosen microforms only when their superiority is so great that their shortcomings can be ignored. As Fremont Rider noted, "... practically all ... users ... confronted with a free choice between a micro-reduced copy ... and no copy at all, will prefer the micro-reduced copy" [2]. Although such extreme circumstances must not always exist before libraries use microforms, it is certainly true that microforms have significant potential which has not been fully exploited. Indeed, many health science librarians have not begun even to explore the potential of microforms, much less exploit it. However, the implementation of a microforms acquisition project requires careful planning if the full potential of microforms is to be realized. The formulation of guidelines to use in identifying

Besides these factors, one should consider other factors relevant to the nature of the material, such as the type of illustrative matter; it is difficult to gain satisfactory microforms of illustrative matter that contains half-tones, and color microfilm is prohibitively expensive. Therefore, journals or other printed materials which have substantial numbers of illustrations using half-tones, or which require color illustrations to adequately communicate the information which they contain, would not be likely candidates for microforms. In addition, material which requires frequent reference between different pages is not easily used on microfiche and is even more difficult on microfilm. Other factors include the location of probable use and the size of the documents laboratory handbooks are not prime candidates for conversion to microforms, while bulky documents which are difficult to handle are easier to use as microforms


Formats Once guidelines have been established to help delineate the types of materials suitable for conversion, there are many technical factors which must be analyzed. Familiarity with the several formats of microforms and their likely *Based on a paper presented June 16, 1977, at the uses is a necessary first step. The two most comSeventy-seventh Annual Meeting of the Medical Li- mon formats are microfilm and microfiche. Microfilm usually comes as roll film in 16- or 35brary Association, Seattle, Washington.


Bull. Med. Libr. Assoc. 66(2) April 1978


mm film size with approximately 100 feet of film per roll. Microfilm may also be obtained housed in cartridges or cassettes which simplify handling but which need special equipment for use. A microfiche is a sheet of film with the pages arranged in grid format; the most common size is four by six inches. There are several other microformats which are less used. Ultrafiche are similar to microfiche except that the documents have been filmed at very high reduction ratios so that many more pages can be stored on one sheet of film. Aperture cards combine keypunch information and microfilm. They come in many sizes, but the most common size is that of a regular keypunch card. Jackets are usually the same size as microfiche and have sleeves into which strips of 16- or 35-mm film are inserted. Microopaques are similar to fiche except that they are not transparent, and therefore images can be stored on both sides [5]. Although there is not always a choice as to which format may be purchased, one should be familiar with the most appropriate format for various materials. Microfilm is best suited for publications that are issued sequentially and for lengthy materials, since more information can be stored on one reel of film than on one unit of microfiche. In general, microfilm is less susceptible to damage from fingerprints and so forth, because the portion of the film on which information appears is rarely handled. Last, microfilm is not as easily misfiled as microfiche, since there are usually fewer physical units, although finding either one is not an easy task if the collection is large [6]. In general, microfilm in one of its several formats (reel, cartridge, or cassette) is more appropriate for journal publications; and microfiche lends itself to research reports, books, and

catalogs. Polarity In addition to format one should consider polarity. By polarity I mean whether the film is positive, black print on a white background; or negative, white print on a black background. In making a decision as to which polarity to buy one should remember that negative film results in less eye irritation to users when readers with translucent screens are used, that negative film makes lint or dust less visible to the user, and in general that it is easier to produce better quality copies from negative film [7]. Besides polarity one should consider the reduction ratio used and compare it with the capability of the available readers. Bull. Med. Libr. Assoc. 66(2) April 1978

Normal reduction ratios are in the range of 18X to 24X.

Film Types Probably the most debated topic relevant to microforms besides the debate on whether to use them at all is the type of film and film processing most suitable for library materials. Microforms are composed of two layers-a light-sensitive emulsion or a plastic coating on a transparent base. The film types currently in use are silver halide, diazo, and vesicular. The names of the films are determined by the chemicals or the methods used in forming the images. There has been an increase in the number of micropublications available on diazo and vesicular film during the past few years [8]. Diazo and vesicular are less expensive to produce, less susceptible to scratches, and are easier to copy. In spite of these advantages, these two film types are not considered acceptable for library use. The debate on the newer film types centers on the question of permanence. Silver halide film is the only film for which archival preservation standards exist, and two committees of the ALA concerned with microforms have recommended that libraries buy only those microforms for which standards for archival performance have been established [9]. In fairness to the newer film types, we should consider carefully what our exact needs are relevant to microform permanence. There is a need for standards relative to film quality and processing for diazo and vesicular film; proper film manufacturing and processing, including the purity of chemicals used and the exercise of quality control, are needed for consistently producing good quality film [10]. However, we should remember that when we buy microforms we are buying service copies, not master copies to be stored for archival purposes. While we need standards to insure that film is of good quality, it is not necessary for these standards to include the expectation that service copies have a life expectancy of 500 years. Of course, along with the acceptance of different standards of permanency for service copies is the expectation that archival quality masters be produced and stored so that replacement copies will be available for use in the future [4]. In addition, it should be remembered that paper is no longer of the same quality as it was in the past, and therefore hard-copy publications probably seldom meet the standards that we are now expecting of microforms [11]. Although 233


archival permanence may not be a fair expectation, libraries considering purchase of vesicular film should note that some vesiculai film requires storage in plastic boxes and that it should not be interfiled with other film types [12].

Machinery Besides consideration of the several factors relevant to the microform itself, an evaluation of the machinery needed to give access to the information stored on the microform is important. In the past, machinery has been one of the significant problems limiting effective use of microforms, but recently there have been many improvements. One problem has been the rigidity imposed on the user of microforms because of machine and carrel design. In a well-designed carrel both the height and angle of viewing should be adjustable, and adequate space for note taking should be provided [ 13]. Besides the provision of a well-designed carrel, the microform reader should have operating instructions affixed to the front of the machinery, clearly marked controls, simple loading procedures, low noise level, and service availability [14]. In addition, adjustable illumination and provision for several magnification levels are desirable. If all of this sounds like a dream machine, it is; no one machine meets all of these criteria, but some of the newer machines have incorporated many of these desirable features. Library Microforms and Materials Company has developed a microfiche reader which has two lenses in the carrier, so that users can see print at normal size or at two-and-one-half times the normal size for users with limited vision. Xerox University Microfilms' new Xerox 350 reader has clear, explicit directions on how to thread the film, and the motorized readers have an automatic lensopening device that prevents film damage [9]. Librarians should consult Library Technology Reports before purchasing microform equipment. Recent issues have included evaluations of microfiche readers, microfiche duplicators, and reader/printers [15]. The references which have just been made to microfiche and microfilm readers allude to the need for special readers for the various formats. This problem has been met somewhat by the availability of microfiche carriers which can be interchanged with microfilm carriers, thus eliminating the need, for example, to purchase a special reader for a format of which you have only a few items. A problem of some concern is that of microfilm cartridges and cassettes. In this area the microfilm equipment producers are ap-


parently trying to equal the deplorable performance of 8-mm loop film producers, where each manufacturer's cartridge requires special and unique machinery for use. Cartridges and cassettes have significant potential for making microforms less objectionable; however, unless these devices are standardized so that they can be used on a variety of machines, it is unlikely that this potential will ever be achieved. A problem related to machinery is that of microcopying technology. In general, one can summarize the problems related to microcopying as having to do with copy quality, copy permanence, and cost. On many microcopiers one must receive a negative (black background) copy from positive film or vice versa. Unfortunately, it is quite unlikely that all microforms in the collection will be of the same polarity. There are microprinters that can produce positive copies from both positive and negative film, but these tend to be more expensive. Another factor in the quality of the copy is determined by the type of process used to make the copy. It is more difficult to make a good quality copy using a wet process, but once again, machines using a dry process are more expensive. In general, a copy made from microfilm will not be as permanent as a photocopy from hard copy, especially if it is exposed to direct light or heat. Lastly, copying from microforms is approximately twice as costly as photocopying from hard copy. It is hoped that many of these problems will be solved as technology improves. IMPACTS ON THE LIBRARY AND ITS USERS The implementation of a microforms project will have numerous impacts on the library and its users. There is an economic impact resulting from savings of space and reduction of other costs. In 1944 Fremont Rider described the results of the exponential growth of research libraries by speculating that by the year 2040 Yale would have 200 million volumes filling 6,000 miles of shelves and that the card catalog would occupy eight acres of floor space [16]. While our collections may not grow quite as fast as Mr. Rider expected, it is true that space becomes more and more of a problem. In many cases the conversion to microforms has been the result of a lack of space [17]. Microforms can be stored in less than 10% of the space needed to store the same hard-copy information; and cost savings are significant, because building costs are $20-50 per square foot [4]. Although some may argue that the savings in space is not 90%, because equipment and users require space, it is equally true that space requirements for users to read miBull. Med. Libr. Assoc. 66(2) April 1978


croforms are not significantly greater than those the amounts and types of equipment purchased. In general, one can say that the larger the microrequired for reading hard copy. form collection the lower the per-volume cost of Space and Cost Savings equipment [20], and although there are Space savings are important and can possibly substantial costs for equipment, the long-run savbe the most convincing argument in obtaining ings will more than offset the initial expense. Thus far the discussion has centered on the ecobudget support for extensive microform conversion projects. However, there are other economic nomic impact of microforms. Certainly, there is advantages. Periodical loss and mutilation are also an impact on both the library and its users serious problems. The average cost of replacing a relevant to access to information. It is often quite missing issue (if you can find it) and rebinding the impossible to secure hard-copy retrospective mutilated volume is $13.38 [18] for all types of issues for many serials which a library needs. By journals; replacement of a health sciences issue using microforms the library can acquire many would cost more. In 1976 the average cost for a items which otherwise would not be available for medical title on microfilm from University Micro- its users. In addition, by converting library films was $6.84 for the current year and $7.82 per catalogs to microfiche these records can be volume for retrospective volumes. Besides the updated easily and distributed widely, thus savings which result from buying replacements in increasing accessibility. Now, while I am an enmicroformats, purchase of retrospective volumes thusiastic believer in the potential of microforms, on microfilm can result in substantial savings. In I recognize their limitations. And even though a li1976 the average cost of a hard-copy retrospective brary may own documents in microformats, these volume was $25.00 [19], as compared to $7.82 per may not always be as accessible as a hard copy volume for microfilm. Lastly, savings in binding document is if we use accessibility in the broadest costs can range from $5.00 to $20.00 per title if sense of the word. Users do experience inconvenience, because there is a need for a machine to microfilm editions are purchased [20]. Substantial cost savings can also result from gain access to the information contained on the the conversion to microforms of library records microform. Of course, there are also limits as to which have traditionally existed as hard copy. where one can take a machine. Although low-cost Computer output microform technology has ad- personal readers have been around for a decade, vanced rapidly during the past several years, and there has been limited success in developing the libraries are rapidly adopting it. Ten years ago, mass market [23]. Truly portable readers which printed book and serial catalogs were the darlings one can use any place one can read a boQk have of the library world. However, as printing and not been mass marketed. If it were possible to expand the uses of microforms so as to develop a paper costs have risen and as microform technolmass market while at the same time improving the ogy has improved, the move is away from producing printed catalogs. Computer output microfilm, portability of readers, then much of the resistance which can be produced rapidly, substantially to microforms could be overcome, because acreduces the cost of producing catalogs of library cessibility would be improved [24]. Besides the holdings. The University of North Carolina de- need for machinery which can go anywhere, there cided to place its serials catalog on microfiche in is the need to make machines easier to use so that 1974. In computing the cost of producing a printed users will not be intimidated. catalog or a microfiche catalog a savings of over DESIGN OF MICROFORM USE AREAS $7,000 could be realized in production costs alone [21]. Using microfiche catalogs to totally replace Another facet of improving accessibility is givthe conventional card catalog is a possibility. A ing careful attention to the design of the microrecent article compared the cost of producing a form use area so that it is as attractive and as book catalog, a card catalog, and a microfiche comfortable as the rest of the library. In fact, it catalog. First-year cost for a book catalog was would not hurt to make it more attractive than the $12,000, for a card catalog $16,300, and for a rest of the library. In 1972-74 the Microform microfiche catalog $3,650 [22]. Review published a series of articles on the design It would be inappropriate not to mention that and operation of the microform reading room when the library uses microforms it does incur which should be helpful to anyone beginning to imfor _quipment, readers, and plement a microform program. In addition to expenses reader/printers, that it would not incur if it did not choosing a good location for the microform use use microforms. The cost associated will vary with area (neither the basement nor the attic is approBull. Med. Libr. Assoc. 66(2)April 1978


JO ANN BELL TABLE 1 priate!) and designing an attractive area, it is important to have trained personnel available to TYPES OF MICROFORMS USED IN LIBRARIES SURVEYED assist new users and to provide clear, concise directions at all readers if user resistance is to be Format Number Percent overcome. I have been a user of microfilm for ten to twelve years, and I have used a variety of maMicrofilm 19 23.45 chines, but I too have difficulty in operating an unMicrofiche 8 9.9 familiar machine when merely handed a microMicrofilm & microfiche 39 48.15 Microfilm, microfiche, form and pointed towards a machine. Certainly, & microcards 15 18.5 recent studies have shown that improving the environmental factors surrounding microform use will Total 81 100.00 significantly reduce user resistance [25]. Accessibility is more than having a document in the library. It is senseless for a library to acquire a several of the libraries checked more than one large collection of microforms which are not used response and indicated that the policy varied with because no one knows that the library owns them. the journal backfile being purchased. Nineteen liMany libraries run into such a problem when large braries (23.5%) indicated that they do not collections of documents or monographs on mi- purchase backfiles in microformats. Libraries that croforms are acquired at one time. Immediately, do purchase backfiles in microformats (sixty-two someone begins to wonder if all those little pieces libraries) were asked to specify whether microforof film are worth all the time it is going to take to mats of current journal volumes are purchased. catalog them. It has been suggested that an al- When Table 3 is examined, it becomes evident ternative is the preparation of special guides to in- that libraries which usually purchase journal dicate the subject areas covered by microforms. backfiles in microformats are not likely to Others note that library users have well- continue to purchase microformats of the current established patterns for determining library hold- journal volumes. It is also evident that the policy ings and that if another manner of determining li- varies with the journal, since five libraries (8.1 %) brary holdings is required, the user will frequently gave multiple responses. not learn that the library owns the microforms The fifth question asked the respondents to indi[26]. The most reasonable approach seems to be for a library to provide identical bibliographic conTABLE 2 trol for paper and for microform library maBACKFILES IN LIBRARIES SURVEYED JOURNAL terials.

SURVEY OF MICROFORM USE Although it is important to identify the problems and opportunities related to microforms in general, it is, of course, of particular interest to us to determine what health science libraries are doing with microforms. In March, 1977, a survey form was sent to 127 academic health science libraries in the United States and Canada. One hundred and eight replies were received; eightyone (75%) libraries indicated that microforms are used. Table 1 presents data on the microformats and reveals that a combination of microfilm and microfiche is most frequently used, and that when only one microformat is used, microfilm is the preferred type. The questionnaire requested that the respondents indicate their policy on the purchase of journal backfiles in microformats. The data in Table 2 reveal that twenty-one libraries (25.9%) always buy journal backfiles in microformats for older volumes while purchasing print editions of more recent volumes. In addition,












8 13

9.9 16.0

19 81

23.5 100.00

1. Always buy in microformat if

available 2. Buy microformat only if print not available 3. Buy microformat for older volumes, print for more recent 4. 1 & 3 above, depending on the

journal 5. 2 & 3 above, depending on the

journal 6. No response 7. Do not purchase backfiles in microformats Total

Bull. Med. Libr. Assoc. 66(2) April 1978


1. Buy print& microformat & retain both 2. Buy microforms

for backfiles only; buy print for current volumes 3. Buy both print& microformat; discard print after 5- 10 years 4. 1 & 2 above, depending on journal 5. 1 & 3 above, de-

pending on journal 6. None of the above 7. No response Total













5 9 62

8.1 14.5 100.00

*Percent based on 62 because only 62 libraries use microformats for journal backfiles (see Table 2).

cate the proportion of their journal titles for which microforms are held. Most of the respondents indicated that microforms account for less than 1% of their titles. Our library probably has the highest proportion, with 25-30% of our journal titles having the backfiles on microfilm. Our policy is always to buy backfiles on microfilm if they are available, and to purchase microfilm and print editions for current years. The print editions are not bound and are held for ten years. The problems and advantages noted by the respondents relative to use of microforms are the same as those already discussed. User resistance was the reason most often cited; the cost of conversion, coupled with lack of funds, was the next most frequently cited reason for not using microforms. However, approximately twenty-five respondents noted that they were now considering microforms as a possible alternative to the traditional print format. Libraries using microforms consider the space saved as the major advantage.

FUTURE OF MICROFORMS What is the future of microforms in health science libraries? Peter Scott has described the information center of the future, where combined Bull. Med. Libr. Assoc. 66(2) April 1978

microform and computer technology, at its most advanced, enables library users to have rapid access to all documents stored in the data base. In addition, the production of copies of the microform documents is speedy and the improved reading devices make reading microforms as simple and as comfortable as reading traditional print formats [27]. While it may be quite a few years before we approach this stage, it is true that improvements in computer and microform technology are certainly changing the faces of many libraries already and will have an even greater impact at a later time. The use of microfiche catalogs to totally replace the conventional card catalog has already been discussed. The continuing rise in the cost of paper, the urge to conserve natural resources including land, the recognition that endless expansion of buildings is not only expensive but needless, and the continuing improvement in microform technology certainly should result in an increase in the use of microforms. In addition, the reduction of user resistance can certainly be expected. Today's generation is machine oriented and often prefers to-use audiovisual materials rather than printed materials, and because school libraries are using audiovisual materials and microforms, we can assume that our library users of the future will be more adept at machine use [24]. REFERENCES 1. VEANER, ALLEN B. Microfilm and the library: a retrospective. Drexel Libr. Q. 11: 3-15, Oct. 1975. 2. RIDER, FREMONT. Microcards vs. the cost of book storage. Am. Doc. 2: 41, Jan. 1951. 3. UNIVERSITY OF HOUSTON. Serials in microforms. Houston, 1975. Mimeographed. 4. DARLING, PAMELA W. Microforms in libraries: preservation and storage. Microform Rev. 5:93-100, Apr. 1976. 5. NATIONAL MICROFILM ASSOCIATION. How to Select a Microfilm Reader or Reader-Printer. Silver Spring, Md., 1974. 6. RICE, E. STEVENS. Fiche and Reel. Ann Arbor, Xerox University Microfilms, 1972. 7. FAIR, JUDY. The microtext reading room: part II. Microform Rev. 1: 269-273, Oct. 1972. 8. NAPIER, PAUL A. Film types: choices and problems. Am. Libr. 7: 588-589, Oct. 1976. 9. . Developments in copying, micrographics, and graphic communications. Libr. Res. Tech. Serv. 29: 236-258, Summer 1976. 10. VEANER, ALLEN B. Microreproduction and micropublication technical standards: what they mean to you, the user. Microform Rev. 3: 80-84, Apr. 1974. 11. EDWARDS, MARY JANE. The conversion confusion: some comments. Microgr. 9: 287-289, July 1976.




12. FAIR, JUDY. The microform reading room: part IV. Microform Rev. 2: 168-17 1, July 1973. 13. HOLMES, DONALD C. Determination of the Environmental Conditions Required in a Library for the Effective Utilization of Microforms. Washington, D.C., Association of Research Libraries, 1970.


14. MILLER, ROGER C. Why don't they make microform machines for libraries? Microform Rev. 2: 91-92, Apr. 1973. 15. See v. 12 (July, 1976), v. 12 (Sept. 1976), v. 13 (Jan. 1977), and v. 13 (Mar. 1977) issues of Lib. Tech. Repts. 16. RIDER, FREMONT. The Scholar and the Future of the Research Library. New York, Hadham Press, 1947. 17. MEIBOOM, ESTHER R. Conversion of the periodical collection in a teaching hospital library to microform format. Bull. Med. Libr. Assoc. 61: 36-40, Jan. 1976. 18. Periodical loss and mutilation. Ann Arbor, Xerox University Microfilms, 1976. Mimeographed. 19. FOLCARELLI, RALPH J., AND FERRAGMO, RALPH C. Microform publications: hardware and suppliers. Libr. Trends 24:711-725, Apr. 1976. 20. REED, JUTTA R. Cost comparison of periodicals in hard copy and on microform. Microform Rev. 5: 185- 192, July 1976.


21. FLAKE, DONNA. Micropublishing and its implications for libraries and the publishing industry. Chapel Hill, N.C., University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 1976. Unpublished thesis. 22. FOLK, CLARA A.; CAMPBELL, BILL W.; AND BLOOMFIELD, MASSE. A microfilm card catalog at work. Spec. Libr. 67: 316-318, July 1976. 23. SPAULDING, CARL. The fifty dollar reading machine ... and other marvels. Libr. J. 101: 2133-2138, Oct. 15, 1976. 24. MEADOW, CHARLES T. Microfilm and the library: a prospective. Drexel Libr. Q. 11: 83-88, Oct. 1975. 25. TANNENBAU, ARTHUR, AND SIDHORN, EVA. User environment and attitudes in an academic microform center. Libr. J. 101: 2139-2143, Oct. 15,

1976. 26. COLE, ROBERT GREY. Bibliographic control. Ill. Libr. 58: 211-216, March 1976. 27. Scorr, PETER. Scholars and researchers and their use of microforms. Microgr. 2: 121-126, Summer 1969.

Received August 15, 1977; revision accepted November 4, 1977.

Bull. Med. Libr. Assoc.

66(2) April 1978

Microforms: uses and potential.

Microforms: Uses and Potential* BY Jo ANN BELL, Director Health Affairs Library East Carolina University Greenville, North Carolina ABSTRACT A genera...
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