The author reflects on some of the events and personalities which have had an impact on library automation in Australia. No attempt to take stock of developments in Australian librarianship during the course of Margaret Trask's long professional life could neglect this fundamental area. And of course, among those mentioned in the survey which follows are colleagues of Margaret's and others on whose professional lives she exerted a great influence by her example, by her teaching and by her approach to professional development, for example, in AIMA. She inspired them to take risks and to lead.
MARGARET TRASK'S CAREER WITNESSED THE TRANSITION FROM THE CONVENTIONAL analogue library, which had only the most rudimentary form of mechanisation to the networked electronic library. In this transition we can identify at least five separate stages of technology development and adoption.
From roughly 1960 to 1965, characterised by a growing awareness in Australia of the possibilities inherent in the use of automation. Initially this was the result of reports of overseas experience, particularly in the United States, and led to the creation of conditions appropriate to initiate similar work in this country.
The decade from 1965 to 1975, a period devoted to what at the time was often called 'getting your hands dirty.' It involved widespread experimentation which helped to train the first generation of practitioners and to position the library within its parent organisation as a major user of IT infrastructure.
The decade from 1975 to 1985 saw the gradual transition from systems built by libraries in house to integrated library management systems created by third party vendors. The two decades from 1965 to 1985 also saw the development of major strategic initiatives for content creation, including adoption of international standards and data sharing.
The late 1980s onwards saw advances in data storage, retrieval and access technologies that paved the way for the transition from systems delivering surrogates of print materials to systems delivering full text in electronic form.
From 1990 onwards: the advent of the personal computer and the growth of the internet which permitted the rapid progressive transition from analogue to digital libraries and from mediated to un-mediated access by users to library resources.
Bringing home the message (1960 to 1965)
in the early 1960s it was still a rarity for Australian librarians to travel overseas on fact-finding tours or to attend professional conferences. However things were changing and in December 1965 the Australian Library Journal could report that 'the number of Australian librarians travelling overseas professionally seems to be increasing.' Mentioned were Harrison Bryan of the University of Sydney and John Balnaves of the National Library, who attended the FID Congress in Washington. (1)
The timing of this increased travel was opportune. Particularly in the United States the age of library automation had started and university libraries all over the country were exploring the use of punched card (unit record) equipment and computers in a range of 'backroom' operations. Articles describing these initiatives were beginning to appear in the literature, tantalising readers with the vision of vastly improved efficiencies and/or service opportunities. Meanwhile Australian libraries of all kinds were on the edge of unprecedented growth. University libraries would soon reap the benefits of the reforms recommended by the Martin Report. Public library services would expand and flourish for a time as a result of subsidies introduced by enlightened legislation passed in all States. Librarians travelling overseas to view the miracles of automation described in the literature could do so with reasonable confidence that there would be money to try some of this at home. Their travels created awareness, built their enthusiasm, and clarified what was needed to start work.
Bryan had been one of the first Australian university librarians to express publicly his qualified excitement about the potential of 'library automation'. (2) In typical fashion he found an original metaphor to express his enthusiasm and his reservations. Likening automation to a new horse, he acknowledged that it is a 'very, very new horse indeed, requiring new techniques of horsemanship ... not to mention his new and expensive fodder and feeding habits.' And whilst the old horse might still be 'the only horse for some of our work,' he put his money on the new horse, 'subject of course to a proper breaking in and perhaps even to a demonstration trot or so.'
However, when Bryan returned from a visit to the United States and Canada in 1965, he expressed disappointment with what he had seen, or rather what he had not seen. He reported at a Sydney meeting of the Library Association that 'the dominant impression is not of the automation that there was but of the great number of places where it was not'. (3) His report had the effect of injecting more realism into the automation plans of Australian libraries, but did not seriously dampen their interest, Indeed, a coda in Bryan's report was a short list of automation projects he had in mind for his own Fisher Library, including computer production of an undergraduate library catalogue, mechanisation of acquisitions routines, and automated serials check-in.
Hans Zwillenberg at the Weapons Research Establishment in Salisbury, who had already started the 'breaking-in' process, responded critically to some aspects of Bryan's papers. He commented that what was required was a shift of emphasis in the professional training of librarians, but not in librarianship. (4) He lamented the fact that no one in Australia
was as yet offering basic instruction in automatic data processing techniques and equipment. 'The sooner our institutions and the LAA incorporate the knowledge of ADP techniques in their syllabus, instead of padding the courses [with library history and book binding techniques] the more readily both senior and junior members of the profession will be in a position to look at automation practically'. (5)
Zwillenberg certainly was willing to do his share. In August 1966 he (and the author, in what is best described as a 'walk-on' role) conducted a week-long residential course in library automation at the University of New England. This initiative of the University's External Studies department was a key event in the early history of library automation in Australia. It stimulated many of the thirty librarians who attended, several of them senior managers, into coaxing the automation horse into a demonstration trot within their institutions. It was also important for another reason. 'On the last day of the workshop it was decided to form the Librarians Automation Group ... to provide a means of communication to those interested in automation in libraries and to provide a forum for discussion'. (6) 'LAG' later became 'LASIE,' an organisation which for over thirty years was influential in promoting the use of automation in Australian libraries by performing both a clearing house and training role.
Meanwhile the New South Wales government was adopting a pragmatic approach towards the introduction of automation in the public service and the training of …