How to Use a Microfilm Reader

By Jacqueline Lynch

Updated September 26, 2017

Microfilm is used for the preservation and archiving of documents, and makes researching information on these documents much more accessible to the public. Microfilm readers are part of every modern library, and are easy to use. Though the microfilm readers may have different styles, they have the same basic function of allowing the viewer to read information off an illuminated frame of a strip of microfilm, usually 35mm film width. The microfilm comes in a roll on a reel that is usually plastic, roughly about three and 3/4 inches in diameter.

How to Use a Microfilm Reader

Turn reader power button “ON."

Open the glass plate. In some machines, there will be a button to open the glass plate, and on other machines this will be done manually by pulling the carriage on which the glass and reel spindles are mounted forward to allow access to loading.

Insert the reel of microfilm onto the left spindle, and thread the film under the small rollers which precede the glass plate. Sliding the film under the plate, continue to thread the film through the right-sided rollers and onto the right empty film spool. Close the glass plate either by the above-described button use or manual function.

Advance the film by use of manual knobs and “forward” and “fast-forward” buttons. Depending on the make of the reader, and the manner in which the document was photographed onto the microfilm, the film may need to be rotated in a different direction or angle to view it properly. This is done either by manipulating a rotation knob on the machine, or manually rotating the carriage apparatus into which the film has been threaded.

Focus using the magnifying lens or lenses mounted in disks that should be easily accessible for you to turn by hand to clarify the image.

Rewind the film with a manual knob or by using the “rewind” and “fast-rewind” buttons. Once the reel is fully rewound, it may be pulled off the spindle, and the machine may be turned off.

Items you will need

  • Reel of microfilm.

  • Microfilm reader.


Some microfilm readers may have a printer function.


The glass must be raised when using the high-speed forward or rewind buttons to avoid damaging the film. In some machines, this occurs automatically when the high-speed buttons are engaged.