Magazine article American Libraries

The Next 100 Years: Meet You at the Bleeding Edge

Magazine article American Libraries

The Next 100 Years: Meet You at the Bleeding Edge

Article excerpt

A brand-new year. A brand-new place for my column. A time to talk about being hip and modern. And a chance to start a column with four sentence fragments! But seriously, there's nothing like working in technology to make this 30-something librarian feel like he's over the hill. Still, as ever, I am confident that there is a surge of technology interest in the profession that will propel us forward.

I'm extremely humbled to be joined in this new "Information Technology" section of American Libraries by Joseph Janes, whose writing both amuses and inspires; and I am excited that Meredith Farkas, whom I admire as a great writer and pragmatist, is joining us to take a look at putting technology into practice.

This is a fun start to the next 100 years of American Libraries in general, and library technology in particular. Of course, before looking forward, I must first look back.

The (w)hole story

There's been a fair bit of beating up on 20th-century library technology. The advent of 21st-century technology--the blog--has even provided a great bully pulpit from which to complain, place blame, and even suggest (less frequently than I would like) an actual way forward. (I've done my share since June at the Hectic Pace blog.) I have been pretty vocal from the library technology pulpit myself, with both successes and failures in the last decade trying to wed thought and deed.

We have often been first among public service sectors to adopt new technologies. (The very first piece of library automation--the University of Texas's punch-card circulation system--appeared in 1936!) MARC records were ahead of their time in data transfer, and the OPAC was likely the very first computer-database interaction many people had. Feel free to send cards and letters of more examples, and I will someday finish that book on the history of library automation--as long as someone promises to buy it.


Ironically, despite our tradition as early adopters, librarians have been slow to adapt either the technologies they created or those that came from outside our historically insulated world of library automation. The OPAC languished as an adequate pre-web computerization of the card catalog, microfilm started deteriorating before our eyes, and integrated library systems were bogged down by expensive and glacial changes that often reflected the arcane policies and outdated business models of libraries as much as they did the relatively inexpensive nature of library enterprise software. …

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