From 1970 to 2004, Colgate University amassed as many as 1.5 million microfiche cards with documents from the U.S. federal government.
The small, private liberal arts institution housed the collection in a central location accessible to the former reference service point and the circulation desk in Hamilton, New York.
"Every single campus tour that goes through the library walks past this collection. Our well meaning student ambassadors would announce ‘Here's our microfiche that no one uses,'" said Debbie Krahmer, accessible technology & government documents librarian at Colgate.
Since the popularity of the miniaturized thumbnails of pages waned several years ago, many libraries have struggled with what to do with their microfiche collections, as they contain important information but are difficult to use.
Krahmer was looking for ways to offload the materials and discovered the Internet Archive would accept microfiche donations for digitization. It was a way to preserve the content, make it easier for the public to access, and avoid putting the microfiche in a landfill.
"These government documents are meant to be available and accessible to the general public. For many there's still a lot of good information in this collection," said Courtney L. Young, the university librarian. "While the microfiche has been stored in large metal cabinets on the main level, many of our users do not see them. This project will improve that visibility and accessibility."
About the donation
In July, the Internet Archive arranged for the twelve cabinets of microfiche, each in excess of 600 pounds, to be loaded onto pallets and shipped to the Internet Archive for preservation and digitization. Materials include Census data, documents from the Department of Education, Congressional testimony, CIA documents, and foreign news translated into English.
Microfiche cabinets ready for shipping to the Internet Archive for preservation and digitization.
Colgate also gave indexes of the microfiche that will be "game changers" for other government libraries once they are digitized because the volumes are expensive and hard to acquire, Krahmer added.
Krahmer said the moving process with the Internet Archive was easy and would recommend the option to other librarians.
"This is a lot easier than trying to figure out how to get these materials recycled," Krahmer said. "In addition to improving discovery and access, this supports the university's sustainability plan. It's going to get digitized, be made available online, and preserved. This is win-win no matter how you look at it."
Public access to government publications
Government documents from microfiche are coming to archive.org based on the combined efforts of the Internet Archive and its Federal Depository Library Program library partners. The Federal Depository Library Program (FDLP), founded in 1813, provides designated libraries with copies of bills, laws, congressional hearings, regulations, and executive and judicial branch documents and reports to share with the public.
Colgate joins Claremont Colleges, Evergreen State College, University of Alberta, University of California San Francisco, and the University of South Carolina that have contributed over 70 million pages on over one million microfiche cards. Other libraries are welcome to join this project.