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View the documentThe AT Microfiche Reference Library information when you need it
View the documentThe Use of Microfiches

The AT Microfiche Reference Library information when you need it

by Ken Darrow and Michael Saxenian

Ready access to relevant technical information would assist project staff in significantly increasing their productivity. The best information tool for this purpose is simple and centuries old - a library. To meet the needs of village development the library must contain a well organized and indexed collection of technical documents which are chosen for their applicability to village situations. However, until now, libraries of sufficient size have been prohibitively expensive.
Now, however, microfiche technology offers a low cost alternative to expensive paper libraries. The A.T. Microfiche Reference Library, recently assembled by the Appropriate Technology Project of Volunteers in Asia, reproduces every page of original text of 872 carefully selected reference books and documents from around the world.
The dramatically low price of this technical reference library is made possible by microfiche technology. Microfiche is the lowest cost technology in the world for reproducing books. A microfiche library, in turn, is the lowest cost means of organizing and handling large numbers of reference books. The A.T. Microfiche Reference Library, with the electric microfiche reader included, costs only $ 825 - roughly 7% of the $12,000 it would cost to obtain the very same books in paper form. Groups which already have a good microfiche reader can get the microfiche library alone for $ 575 - less than 5 % of the cost of the books in paper form. Many small development groups which would otherwise have no access to a substantial technical library will now be able to do research immediately in their offices.
Most microfiche applications up until now have been for low cost document storage. The image quality of these microfiche has not generally been very high. This, in combination with microfiche readers which are unnecessarily difficult to use and produce an unsatisfactory image for reading, can make microfiche difficult to use. However, the microfiche provided in the A.T. Microfiche Reference Library are of the highest quality available; used in combination with the easy to use portable microfiche reader which is offered with the set, these microfiche produce a very sharp and clear image which can be comfortably read for long periods of time. Learning to use the microfiche library and reader takes only 15 minutes. In fact, given its superior system of organization, and the small physical size of the microfiche set (small enough to fit in a shoe box), many people have found that the microfiche library is actually easier to use than a conventional paper library.
While users of the A.T. Microfiche Reference Library will not be able to make photocopies of the text on microfiche without special equipment (and many of the items are under copyright in any case), the entire microfiche library can easily be carried home or to the field, or lent to a friend.
In tropical third world conditions the epoxy coated "diazo" type microfiche used in this set are also far more durable than paper copy. Unlike paper books, diazo microfiche are not harmed by humidity or fungus. Because of its epoxy coating, diazo microfiche are resistant to scratching, and have a proven durability of 10 to 20 years.
Beyond the simple dollar savings of the microfiche library, this approach offers a host of "hidden" savings, including the literally thousands of hours which a local group would have to invest to locate, order, organize and index a set of this size. Groups using this library will also save shelf space needed to store an 850 document library. And, once those groups have a microfiche reader, they can take advantage of other sources of free and low cost information already available on microfiche from such groups as ITDG, VITA, IDRC, and NTIS.
Conventional libraries are already too expansive for all but the most well endowed third world development groups. As the already high costs of producing and shipping paper copies continue to rise, the favorable economics of microfiche libraries will become even more compelling. The A.T. Microfiche Reference Library offers reproductions of one of the best A.T. Iibraries in the world at an unprecedented low cost, allowing local groups access to the information they need, when they need it.

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