Parents of Invention: The Development of Library Automation Systems in the Late 20th Century

Parents of Invention: The Development of Library Automation Systems in the Late 20th Century

Parents of Invention: The Development of Library Automation Systems in the Late 20th Century

Parents of Invention: The Development of Library Automation Systems in the Late 20th Century

Synopsis

This fascinating tale of the rise and fall of mini-computer-based integrated library systems (ILS) offers both an explanation of the technical workings- still being used daily- and a historical investigation.

• Interviews with CEOs of libraries and computer companies, programmers, librarians, and library directors from Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom, and the United States

• References to published material and memoranda and recourse to actual programming code and output from systems of the period

• Photographs of computer machine rooms depicting mini-computer equipment described in the text

• A glossary of acronyms, abbreviations, and special terms used in library automation

• A bibliography of articles and monographs on historical and current aspects of library automation

Excerpt

When Tracy Kidder wrote his book The Soul of a New Machine, he focused on the people who were, in fact, the soul of the machines being developed. Mr. Kidder lived with the family of one of the players, Tom West, and left a lasting influence just as any participant observer might do. Tom West’s daughter, Jessamyn, went on to become an automation consultant in the library field.

When Chris Brown-Syed “lived with” Geac as one of its early employees, he both contributed to and was influenced by the innovative company, just like any other participant-observer. He now puts his magnifying glass to the development of the Geac enterprise and the environment in which it evolved. With his intimate involvement in this endeavor, it is not surprising that he, too, is drawn to a primary focus for the story. In his own words, “This story is mainly about those people and the technical challenges they faced and overcame.”

Dr. Brown-Syed knows full well the complexities of the intersection of people, information, and technology (now accepted as the domain of “informatics”) and how the “people” component can determine the success (or failure) of an innovation. He was one of the faculty members in a pioneering school of informatics and taught the first cadre of students in that program. He knows something about the risks (and rewards) of being a pioneer.

In the book you now hold, Dr. Brown-Syed brings both a scholarly and a dramatic detail to the people and chain of events around the development, marketing, and application of local library systems at a time when automation was beginning to find its own within the library community. As with his subsequent labors in the area of informatics, he was also a “pioneer” in library local system development. This book, then, is as much his story as it is the story of others in “the game.” Again, in his own words . . .

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