The Evolution of Library Automation: Libraries and Telecommunications

By Mitchell, Maurice; Saunders, Laverna M. | Information Today, February 1991 | Go to article overview

The Evolution of Library Automation: Libraries and Telecommunications


Mitchell, Maurice, Saunders, Laverna M., Information Today


The Evolution of Library Automation: Libraries and Telecommunications

With the convergence of technological developments, the "virtual library" or "library without walls" is becoming a reality. Telecommunications capability links a user at a personal computer with both local and remote libraries. The term "telecommunications" is used here as an inclusive descriptor for a system of mixed technologies (including communications software, communications and computer hardware, and transmission networks) which connects libraries to services and users. This presentation looks at the development of telecommunications use by libraries, the current state-of-the-art with its accompanying management issues, and prospects for the future.

Bibliographic networks for shared cataloging initiated libraries in the use of telecommunications about twenty years ago. OCLC and RLG used telecommunications hardware and software to enable participating libraries to build huge bibliographic databases. Today OCLC, RLIN and WLN offer many services in addition to access to online cataloging, including inter-library loan, CD-ROM based products retrospective conversion services, and group purchasing agreements.

The ability to link libraries through telecommunications made possible statewide networks such as those in Illinois and California. Some states such as Oregon have successfully linked many types of libraries for the purpose of resource sharing.

The advent of remote databases which stored indexing information to millions of journal citations was another landmark in library automation. Accessed through commercial telecommunications links, such as Tymnet, Telenet, CompuServe, online databases have saved countless hours of user time and streamlined research. Access through serial line interfaces improved over the years from 100 to 9600 bps. With the improved speed of transfer users could move larger documents at lower costs. Improvements in telecommunications capabilities have enabled libraries to continue using bibliographic networks and online database searching. The scene in 1991 includes a myriad of additional capabilities: electronic mail, list services such as the PACS-L network, telefacsimile, document delivery, voice mail, the Internet, electronic bulletin boards, local area networks (LANS), and electronic publishing.

The Internet, of which NSFnet is a part, is one of the more exciting uses of telecommunications by libraries. At the present time, about 300 institutions are connected, while more than 60 libraries have made their online catalogs available for remote searching. Internet member libraries are experiencing an increase in inter-library loan requests even though the reported proportion of remote users is small compared to local users.

Management issues which had to be resolved as bibliographic and citation databases evolved were standards (MARC on the library side and OSI on the telecommunications side), copyright and licensing. …

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