Magazine article American Libraries

The Crawford Files: Looking Back on Library Technology. (Library History)

Magazine article American Libraries

The Crawford Files: Looking Back on Library Technology. (Library History)

Article excerpt

In preparing to speak at the 30th anniversary of the University of Tennessee's School of Information Science last fall, I looked at some elements of library life in 1972 and 1973. How many people remember what library services and technology were like three decades ago?

I worked at the University of California at Berkeley's Doe Library in 1973, having designed and implemented the punch-card circulation system that was Doe's first library automation. We had a visit from the FBI very early in the 1970s and learned to destroy circulation records as soon as items were returned.

How's your 2003 privacy audit going? Can you assure readers that their circulation histories are private? You haven't done a privacy audit? You should.

Your library in 1972-73

You almost certainly had a card catalog. MARC II existed, but shared online cataloging was in its infancy--OCLC went online in 1971, but primarily served a few dozen Ohio institutions by 1973. BALLOTS, the underlying software for RLG's RLIN, went online in November 1972--but RLG didn't exist until 1975. WLN began offering services in late 1972, but didn't go online until 1975 or later.

You might have had a circulation system using a "minicomputer" that you'd consider huge by today's standards, but with a fraction of the power of today's cheapest PCs.

It's possible that you searched remote databases on SDC or BRS with a state-of-the-art 300-bps modem, or, in a university library, searched locally mounted databases through batch processing.

Library automation began considerably earlier. The Information Science and Automation Division, the earlier name of ALA's Library and Information Technology Association, began in 1966. Microprocessors already existed (Intel's 8088 came out in late 1972, the 8080 in 1973), but personal computers didn't appear until 1975; the first widely used models (Commodore PET, Apple II, Radio Shack TRS-80) showed up in 1977. The first IBM PC was still eight years away--and that PC didn't have any hard disk.

The books on your shelves didn't have ISBNs, although a few of them might have had SBNs, the predecessor standard adopted in 1973.

If you circulated movies at all, they were films, probably 16mm reels. You might have had some U-Matic videocassettes (introduced in 1971), but Betamax and VHS came along in 1975 and 1976. …

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