Magazine article Computers in Libraries

Trends in Library Microcomputing

Magazine article Computers in Libraries

Trends in Library Microcomputing

Article excerpt

As the 1980s wind down, we are aware that microcomputers have become quite pervasive in the library world - a stark contrast to the situation at the beginning of the decade.

Ten years ago there were very few microcomputers on the market. The Apple II was by far the biggest seller, but the IBM PC was still a couple of years away, and the Macintosh had to wait about five more years. Only a few libraries had the foresight to purchase an Apple, or perhaps a Commodore instead, which was the second best-selling micro. (Incidentally, I'd like to know which library has the distinction of being the first to purchase a microcomputer. Can anybody help me out?) other than those few pioneers, there were no libraries involved in this new-fangled technology.

Trends Through the Decade

What a difference a decade makes, doesn't it? Now, nearly every libary has at least one microcomputer. Only the smallest, most fiscally restricted libraries are without any kind of computer. Most, in fact, have more than one micro, and many sport dozens.

That fact, then, tums out to be our first trend. Libraries have discovered that it isn't enough just to have a computer. It has become apparent that microcomputers are capable of performing in minutes or even seconds tasks that take a human being hours or even days to do.

We've discovered that micros will help us out in virtually all areas of library operations: administrative services, technical services, and public services. We've gone into this revolution in a big way, providing computers for practically every department, and even for our clientele. Sure, some of us had micros forced on us in the beginning, and maybe we were a little skeptical at first. But I don't know many librarians who think we were better off before this all happened.

We've identified our first trend as the realization that there ought to be micros in virtually all areas of operation. What other trends can we spot? Let's take a look at administration, technical services, public services, and librarians and see what the cuff ent tendencies are.


Library administrators are concerned with the ways in which computers fit into the overall mission of the library. By necessity, they must view th "big picture" and keep the wishes of the rest of the staff in perspective with budgets and the real world. In order to provide more computers to more staff, they are looking for ways to reduce the per unit cost of micros.

To this end, one of the trends we can identify is a switch away from the big names to what are loosely described as "clones" or compatibles. No longer is IBM the biggest-selling computer in the library world. This is partly the result of IBM's decision to stop making PCs and ATs and to concentrate instead on its new PS/2 series. But IBM's decision can be attributed partly to the tremendous growth in market share being captured by the compatibles and clones.

And IBM isn't alone. Many administrators are declining to purchase OCLC's M310 workstation, at a price approaching $4,000, when they find they can get a good AT-compatible that works just as well and save a thousand dollars or more in the process. No, the library isn't just a brand name shop anymore. Now you're just as likely to find computers with names like DTK, Dell, and even Clone.

Local Area Networks

Another trend that is beginning to emerge, at least in the larger libraries, is the implementation of local area networks (LANs). Industry experts have been proclaiming each succeeding year as the "Year of the LAN" for quite awhile, but somehow, without much fanfare, die business world has already adopted the LAN concept. Surveys now show that a high percentage of larger companies already have installed LANs.

The library world is not far behind. Some libraries, such as the one at the University of Houston, have been networked for a year or more, while others, like the University of North Texas, are in the process of installing a LAN. …

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