Magazine article American Libraries

In the Beginning ... a Historical Glimpse into Library Automation

Magazine article American Libraries

In the Beginning ... a Historical Glimpse into Library Automation

Article excerpt

Harry S. Truman said, "The only thing new in the world is the history you don't know." With blogs, instant messaging, and about five too many 24-hour news channels, the gap between news and history seems to be getting smaller and smaller (to say nothing of the quality of "the news"). So I rejoiced at the notion that this month's theme was a centennial celebration of the history of American Libraries. Finally, I could write about old technology news without fear of instant staleness.

I went into the stacks of D. H. Hill Library at North Carolina State University to get some of those things the kids are calling "books on paper." The shelves are alive with the history of library automation. And while I got called out by a reader a few months ago for marking 1936 as the dawn of library automation ("what about the automobile?"), I still won't try to backdate my current definition of library automation to precede punch cards in order to include beauties like the first bookmobile and the electric eraser.

I love those old volumes of the Journal of Library Automation (JLA), precursor to Information Technology and Libraries (ITAL), the scholarly publication of ALA's Library and Information Technology Association. The forefathers of library automation (sorry, they seem to have been all men in that first issue) were there for the 1968 inaugural issue--Ned Morris, Richard Johnson, Robert Wedgeworth, Richard Chapin, Dale Pretzer, and, one of my absolute favorites, Richard De Gennaro. They wrote about Texas A & I's acquisitions system, Stanford's book catalog, Brown's fund-accounting system, machine-readable shelf lists, and the nascent history of library automation. Frederick G. Kilgour served as editor.

Fast forward

For the September 2006 issue of ITAL, I had the good fortune to coauthor a 40th-anniversary article with my colleagues Kristin Antelman and Emily Lynema. "Toward a Twenty-First-Century Library Catalog" is about NCSU's new book catalog, a story that begins with the early history like that discussed by De Gennaro 40 years prior.

My point is not to suggest that my colleagues and I are now on some sort of path to greatness because we got an article published in ITAL. It is that we are on the same path that was first trod over half a century ago. As I browsed the pages of JLA/ITAL and half a dozen books from a quarter-century ago, I was struck by how easily I could take a lot of the quotes out of context and apply them to the state of library automation in 2007. …

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