A Transition Seven Years in the Making
If you were to ask a UC Law alum of decades past about microfiche, he or she would likely recall hours spent researching in the library, using special equipment to view a sheet of microfilm. If you were to ask a new, 20-something UC Law student about microfiche, you more likely get answered with a confused stare.
“Many young people do not know what it is,” says Akram Pari, Bibliographic Services and Special Collections Librarian, of UC’s Robert S. Marx Law Library. Microfiche are sheets of microfilm, and each sheet contains several tiny pictures of printed pages. It was the old-school way of condensing and preserving documents. Fortunately for younger students, Pari and a team of staff librarians have been working since 2011 to convert the Marx Library’s vast collection of legal documents from microfiche format to a digital format.
“Management of the microfiche collection would cause us difficulties. It was challenging to manage that size of a collection, in terms of space, financial needs, staff,” says Pari. It cost thousands of dollars annually to maintain document collections in microfiche format. Converting these collections to digital format was “very challenging, but it took us a long way toward providing access to our patrons.”
Pari was hired in 2011 by Director Kenneth Hirsh as “amongst other duties, coordinator for government documents.” This position comes with great responsibility, as the Marx Library is a Selective Government Depository Library and part of the Federal Depository Program (FDLP), which seeks to make federal government publications available to the public at no cost. Through the program, the Marx Library receives thousands of government documents at no cost, but in return, it has an obligation to make these documents accessible to the public.
Pari and the Marx Library team’s work has paid off. In 2014, the Government Publishing Office conducted its public access assessment. While most libraries had one or more deficiencies noted in their reports, the Marx Law Library excelled, and the report highlighted achievements in cataloging the Federal Depository collection.
Now, with easily-accessed digital format, anyone can view the Marx Law Library’s collection of government documents at no cost through the online catalogue. Individual documents are fully searchable by title or other criteria, eliminating the tedium of searching the shelves for microfiche.
The library staff will complete the years-long conversion project at the end of August.
Written by Pete Miller