The thwarted future of fiche and film

It’s crazy how much the predictions made about microfilm in the 1970s resemble the buzz about e-readers and e-books today…but I don’t know of any portable microfilm readers that ever really hit the consumer market with a splash the way the Kindle/Nook/etc. have. I guess they just weren’t “cuddly” enough.

woman uses microfilm printer

“Instead of circulating microfiche like books, tomorrow’s libraries will duplicate them for you to take away and read on your own portable microfilm reader!”
-Joseph Becker in The First Book of Information Science. United States Atomic Energy Commission Office of Information Services, 1973. p. 80

lady with retro hair using a microfilm reader

“A portable microfilm reader is certain to promote increased use of all forms of microfilm in schools and in the home. Designers believe it should be lightweight, about the size of a book, possess a good internal light source, have sharp focusing, and above all be a little ‘cuddly’ so that people will feel as comfortable reading microfilm as they do curled up in a chair reading a book.”
– Becker (1973) p. 76.

tv spits out fax with the news
"men who plan beyond tomorrow" - they like whisky and they have TVs that spit out faxes of the latest news. From an ad in Life magazine, Nov. 20 1944

more “Men who plan beyond tomorrow” on the Technologizer

1948 microfilm reader
from Popular Mechanics, Sept. 1948

“At some point, we might actually see everyone on the tube reading his paper with a pocket microfiche reader.” – “A New Kettle of Fiche”. The New Scientist, Feb. 24, 1972

women using micro readers
from the NYPL


Back to the future

abstract for a paper from 1978:

In the future, books will be available, although a number of texts will be published in a loose-leaf format; still pictures can be organised on microfiche; sound recordings should be available on microfiche; moving pictures can be satisfactorily retained as videocassettes. But other developments will affect librarians as well. The video-disc may soon be available commercially, increasingly users will wish to record broadcast items, all libraries will have teletext, holography will become more popular, and the ubiquitous silicon chip may well provide the answer to the mechanical complications which arise because audio and video equipment contains moving parts. A British non-book national listing should soon emerge, and domestic computers will proliferate in the next decade or so. Part-time study and distance education will place more pressure on libraries.

(Paper presented at the International and Comparative Librarianship Group Seminar 4: Into the future, chaired by Sir Harry T. Hookway.)

Fothergill, R. & Hookway, H. T. (1978). New media and the libraries [Abstract]. Proceedings from The Library Association Study School and National Conference. London, Library Association. Retrieved from LISA: Library and Information Science Abstracts.