Cool Book Things Part Ducks

We don’t need a Rosetta Stone, we have fiche!

OK, I have about a half hour until I have to get going on the fiche project so I thought I’d see what I can whip out by then. Firstly, I have to say that my looking forward to fiching is a very strange thing indeed. Just two months ago I would find anything (yes, even my bosses filing) more preferable to fiching. Now, I am ALL about spending some quiet time with the reader and my bits of fiche. But wait, what do you mean by fiching? Glad you asked!

Remember the library? The one that’s about busting at the seams with books? Well in order to gain space they are considering junking the paper copies in favor for fiche copies of the same stuff. So, now the volumes that are taking up several feet of space only take up about a foot of file cabinet space. Good deal, it means we can get in more diverse stuff now that we have space for it. There is only one problem. We are a research library so the fiche copies have to be exact duplicates of the original, down to the ads.

It’s also a preservation thing. Some of the volumes are so old and brittle that they are falling apart on the shelves. Walking through the stacks you can see books tied together with pink string, or even kept in boxes so they don’t leak their parts all over the floor. Some books go out to be deacidified and come back all happy for generations to come but I think others are just too far gone to try and save. Except you can if you film them to fiche.

If you have never met fiche, it is a 4×6 sheet of clear plastic that the pages have been negatively photographed onto really teeny tiny like. One sheet holds 98 pages of written book so your average Steven King novel will fit onto about 6 of these plastic pages. Very convenient if you have space problems. All you need is a fiche reader (or really really good eyes) and your fiche and away you go. The machine blows up the tinsy page into something more easily read and reverses the image too so you are not reading white on black. Don’t ask how, I think it’s magic. Fiche elves!

This may sound like the godsend plan for overstuffed libraries except for that picky research library aspect. The fiche company is a small non-profit gig who is all about preservation of books and is super glad to fiche things that haven’t been fiched before but they don’t have the staff to do a comprehensive quality inspection of everything they film. I’m sure they have some checks and balances to catch the gross errors but not every little smudge or blot that may wipe out a word here and there. The guy told us that he was hoping the libraries that bought the fiche would do their own quality control checks so that the fiche company could get feedback on how they are doing. So far, no one but us has taken up that initiative.

So, it falls to me to scan every page of fiche, checking it against the paper original here and there to make sure they jive. It sounds boring but just think of the alternative: Everyone buys a copy of X Laws on fiche and throws away their paper copy to save space. Suddenly ten years down the road someone discovered that page 54 is missing and there is nothing anyone can do because all the paper copies are gone. Page 54 will forever be lost to all the generations to come and that is a bad thing. Now if you will excuse me, I have to go check the Nova Scotia Reports and make sure page 54 is indeed on the fiche.

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