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California State Library's Mekel Machine beats the Fiche

“Having run a business information company for a number of years and having to use microfiche myself, I hate microfiche: I hate searching, I hate the heat, and I hate the spiky metal on them. I do not want to see a microfiche reader again.” (Lord McIntosh of Haringey-December 2002-The United Kingdom Parliament.)

You don’t have to be a Member of Parliament to know that using microfiche can annoy library users. Microfiche readers are awkward to use, difficult to read, often broken, and require coins. When even the most intrepid searcher learns that a report is available only on microfiche, he or she may snap, “I don’t need it that badly.” .

Many in the Government Publications Section (GPS) of the California State Library concur with Lord McIntosh and those disgruntled users. The GPS has collected millions of reports on microfiche for decades and anyone who works there knows how cumbersome microfiche is.

Luckily, the GPS has found a better way to make these documents accessible-the Mekel 565 Microfiche Scanner.

In 2001 the staff sought to make government documents more usable for California State Library customers. Brent Miller, former head of GPS, and Jackie Siegel of the State Library’s Information Technology Bureau, learned that the Mekel scanner, an unassuming beige, plastic box, could copy text from microfiche to a floppy disk or a CD-ROM. By transforming a 1000-image folder into a PDF document, GPS staff could attach to an email for a patron, the Mekel would also transform the way the State Library did business. Miller and Siegel were sold: they acquired Mekel for the California State Library.

It has proven to be an excellent move.

Users love the turnaround time and receiving articles on their PC desktops. A recent email from a Department of Fish and Game employee exclaims: “Thank you very much! It is a very readable copy, and done so quickly! I am very pleased.”

Like most gadgets, though, the Mekel takes getting used to. “The Mekel can do many wondrous things with standard fiche,” says Kris Ogilvie, Supervising Librarian in GPS, “but it requires significant care when attempting to scan anything out of the ordinary, such as over-sized maps, unusual page sizes, or two pages in one frame.” Therefore, to produce quality documents for customers, Shirley Nester and Dia Reid, support staff in GPS, must “clean up” an image before scanning and sending that image.

The Mekel machine has also created a new vocabulary in the Government Publications Section. The person who runs the machine is a “Mekel Maven,” or a “Mekelmeister” if the operator happens to be male. The staff has been known “to mekel” or “mekelize” a document for a user, and one of the staff members has “Mekelriffic” as part of his screensaver. “It’s kind of like the Blob taking over the minds of the section’s staff,” muses Nester.

The Mekel has been used by the Vatican, Scotland Yard, the U.S. Air Force, and, now, the California State Library. Californians anywhere in the state have access to ERIC or NTIS documents right at their desktops just minutes after asking for them. Maybe GPS should send Lord McIntosh of Haringey an interesting report from the U.S. Congress-via the Mekel, of course.


"Mekel Mavins" Shirley Nester and Dia Reid. 

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