May 16, 2022

From The Guardian Archive: 54 Years Ago Sales of Microfilm Equipment Showing a "Steady Rise in Sales"

The history of information technology is fascinating.

Let’s look at storage. If you’re in your mid 40s or older you’ve dealt with:

+ Data Punch Cards
+ Vinyl
+ Reel-to-Reel Tapes
+ 8-Track Tapes
+ Cassette Tapes
+ CD’s
+ DVD’s
+ Hard Drive Devices Like iPods, iPhones, etc.
+ VHS Tapes
+ Beta Video Tapes
+ Microfilm
+ Microfiche
and so on and so on and so on.

It’s both very exciting and perhaps a bit scary when you think about what’s coming next.

One thing we feel confident in forecasting in the short term (actually, we’re already experiencing it) is that more and more content will be available to you when and where you want it from many places on earth both on the ground, at sea, or in the air.

We’re talking about the data you create and the data you purchase, that is purchased on your behalf, or data that is free and available to all.

So, in a few words were talking “on demand” and stored in the cloud.

However, this does not make some of the older technology obsolete. We’re still along way from digitizing “everything” (if that’s even possible) and we don’t know as much as we need to know about the long term viability of digital. That’s scary and why we need to think twice about simply discarding material because it has been digitized.

The other day The Guardian posted an extract from the UK’s Manchester Guardian dated March 12, 1957. Here’s a bit of it:

Bank managers, librarians, archivists, and those in charge of filing are realising more and more the value of reducing the information contained in four drawers of a filing cabinet to the size of a packet of cigarettes. It is now possible to buy machines which can photograph cheques at the rate of 350 a minute, or letters at 150 a minute, and reduce the size of the original at the same time by one-fortieth.


On each 100ft of 35mm film it is possible to take 800 full-sized newspaper pages. As 16mm film is about half the size, its potentialities are about half as much, but it is claimed by the manufacturers that four average drawerfuls of filed letters will just fit along 100ft of it.


Having received an exposed film back from processing, the next stage is to find a particular letter. Some machines have an indexing system, so that any letter can be found within about a minute. Others rely upon a system of running rapidly through the letters, and then only slowing down for a better look when a particular letter in the alphabet has been reached.

However, This article from 2010 discusses the use of microfilm for long term storage.

…Many have recognised the problems of storing such materials in digital media and suggest that in terms of cost, stability and technology independence, microfilm offers a promising solution for “off-line” storage.

About Gary Price

Gary Price ( is a librarian, writer, consultant, and frequent conference speaker based in the Washington D.C. metro area. Before launching INFOdocket, Price and Shirl Kennedy were the founders and senior editors at ResourceShelf and DocuTicker for 10 years. From 2006-2009 he was Director of Online Information Services at, and is currently a contributing editor at Search Engine Land.