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Essay/Term paper: Brief history of library automation: 1930-1996

Essay, term paper, research paper:  Information Technology

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Brief History of Library Automation: 1930-1996

An automated library is one where a computer system is used to manage
one or several of the library's key functions such as acquisitions, serials
control, cataloging, circulation and the public access catalog. When exploring
the history of library automation, it is possible to return to past centuries
when visionaries well before the computer age created devices to assist with
their book lending systems. Even as far back as 1588, the invention of the
French "Book Wheel" allowed scholars to rotate between books by stepping on a
pedal that turned a book table. Another interesting example was the "Book
Indicator", developed by Albert Cotgreave in 1863. It housed miniature books to
represent books in the library's collection. The miniature books were part of a
design that made it possible to determine if a book was in, out or overdue.
These and many more examples of early ingenuity in library systems exist,
however, this paper will focus on the more recent computer automation beginning
in the early twentieth century.

The Beginnings of Library Automation: 1930-1960
It could be said that library automation development began in the 1930's
when punch card equipment was implemented for use in library circulation and
acquisitions. During the 30's and early 40's progress on computer systems was
slow which is not surprising, given the Depression and World War II. In 1945,
Vannevar Bush envisioned an automated system that would store information,
including books, personal records and articles. Bush(1945) wrote about a
hypothetical "memex" system which he described as a mechanical library that
would allow a user to view stored information from several different access
points and look at several items simultaneously. His ideas are well known as the
basis for hypertext and mputers for their operations. The first appeared at MIT,
in 1957, with the development of COMIT, managing linguistic computations,
natural language and the ability to search for a particular string of
information. Librarians then moved beyond a vision or idea for the use of
computers, given the technology, they were able make great advances in the use
of computers for library systems. This lead to an explosion of library
automation in the 60's and 70's.

Library Automation Officially is Underway: 1960-1980
The advancement of technology lead to increases in the use of computers
in libraries. In 1961, a significant invention by both Robert Noyce of Intel and
Jack Kirby of Texas Instruments, working independently, was the integrated
circuit. All the components of an electronic circuit were placed onto a single
"chip" of silicon. This invention of the integrated circuit and newly developed
disk and tape storage devices gave computers the speed, storage and ability
needed for on-line interactive processing and telecommunications. The new
potential for computer use guided one librarian to develop a new indexing
technique. HP. Luhn, in 1961, used a computer to produce the "keyword in
context" or KWIC index for articles appearing in Chemical Abstracts. Although
keyword indexing was not new, it was found to be very suitable for the computer
as it was inexpensive and it presented multiple access points. Through the use
of Luhn's keyword indexing, it was found that librarians had the ability to put
controlled language index terms on the computer.
By the mid-60's, computers were being used for the production of machine
readable catalog records by the Library of Congress. Between 1965 and 1968, LOC
began the MARC I project, followed quickly by MARC II. MARC was designed as way
of "tagging" bibliographic records using 3-digit numbers to identify fields. For
example, a tag might indicate "ISBN," while another tag indicates "publication
date," and yet another indicates "Library of Congress subject headings" and so
on. In 1974, the MARC II format became the basis of a standard incorporated by
NISO (National Information Standards Organization). This was a significant
development because the standards created meant that a bibliographic record
could be read and transferred by the computer between different library systems.
ARPANET, a network established by the Defense Advanced Research
Projects Agency in 1969 brought into existence the use of e-mail, telnet and ftp.
By 1980, a sub-net of ARPANET made MELVYL, the University of Californiaís on-
line public access catalog, available on a national level. ARPANET, would become
the prototype for other networks such as CSNET, BITNET, and EDUCOM. These
networks have almost disappeared with the evolution of ARPANET to NSFNET which
has become the present day Internet.
During the 1970's the inventions of the integrated computer chip and
storage devices caused the use of minicomputers and microcomputers to grow
substantially. The use of commercial systems for searching reference databases
(such as DIALOG) began. BALLOTS (Bibliographical Automation of Large Library
Operations) in the late 1970's was one of the first and later became the
foundation for RLIN (the Research Libraries Information Network). BALLOTS was
designed to integrate closely with the technical processing functions of the
library and contained four main files: (1)MARC records from LOC; (2) an in-
process file containing information on items in the processing stage; (3) a
catalog data file containing an on-line record for each item; and (4) a
reference file. Further, it contained a wide search retrieval capability with
the ability to search on truncated words, keywords, and LC subject headings, for
example. OCLC, the On-line Computer Library Center began in 1967, chartered in
the state of Ohio. This significant project facilitated technical processing in
library systems when it started it's first cooperative cataloging venture in
1970. It went on-line in 1971. Since that time it has grown considerably,
providing research and utihypermedia.
In order to have automation, there must first be a computer. The
development of the computer progressed substantially from 1946 to 1961, moving
quickly though a succession of vacuum tubes, transistors and finally to silicon
chips. From 1946 to 1947 two significant computers were built. The ENIAC I
(Electronic Numerical Integrator and Calculator) computer was developed by John
Mauchly and J. Presper Eckert at the University of Pennsylvania. It contained
over 18,000 vacuum tubes, weighed thirty tons and was housed in two stories of a
building. It was intended for use during World War II but was not completed in
time. Instead, it was used to assist the development of the hydrogen bomb.
Another computer, EDVAC, was designed to store two programs at once and switch
between the sets of instructions. A major breakthrough occurred in 1947 when
Bell Laboratories replaced vacuum tubes with the invention of the transistor.
The transistors decreased the size of the computer, and at the same time
increased the speed and capacity. The UNIVAC I (Universal Automatic Computer)
became the first computer using transistors and was used at the U.S. Bureau of
the Census from 1951 until 1963.
Software development also was in progress during this time. Operating
systems and programming languages were developed for the computers being built.
Librarians needed text-based computer languages, different from the first
numerical languages invented for the number crunching "monster computers", in
order to be able to use colities designed to provide users with the ability to
access bibliographic records, scientific and literary information which
continues to the present .

Library Automation 1980-present The 70's were the era of the dummy terminal that
were used to gain access to mainframe on-line databases. The 80's gave birth to
a new revolution. The size of computers decreased, at the same time, technology
provided faster chips, additional RAM and greater storage capacity. The use of
microcomputers during the 1980's expanded tremendously into the homes, schools,
libraries and offices of many Americans. The microcomputer of the 80's became a
useful tool for librarians who put to them to use for everything from word
processing to reference, circulation and serials. On-line Public Access
Catalogs began to be used extensively the 1980's. Libraries started to set-up
and purchase their own computer systems as well as connect with other
established library networks. Many of these were not developed by the librarians
themselves, but by vendors who supplied libraries with systems for everything
from cataloging to circulation. One such on-line catalog system is the CARL
(Colorado Alliance of Research Libraries) system. Various other software became
available to librarians, such as spreadsheets and databases for help in library
administration and information dissemination.
The introduction of CD-ROMs in the late 80ís has changed the way
libraries operate. CD-ROMs became available containing databases, software, and
information previously only available through print, making the information more
accessible. Connections to "outside" databases such as OCLC, DIALOG, and RLIN
continued, however, in the early 90's the databases that were previously
available on-line became available on CD-ROM, either in parts or in their
entirety. Libraries could then gain information through a variety of options.
The nineties are giving rise to yet another era in library automation.
The use of networks for e-mail, ftp, telnet, Internet, and connections to on-
line commercial systems has grown. It is now possible for users to connect to
the libraries from their home or office. The world wide web which had it's
official start date as April of 1993 is becoming the fastest growing new
provider of information. It is also possible, to connect to international
library systems and information through the Internet and with ever improving
telecommunications. Expert systems and knowledge systems have become available
in the 90ís as both software and hardware capabilities have improved. The
technology used for the processing of information has grown considerably since
the beginnings of the thirty ton computer. With the development of more advanced
silicon computer chips, enlarged storage space and faster, increased capacity
telecommunication lines, the ability to quickly process, store, send and
retrieve information is causing the current information delivery services to


Bush, V. (1945).As we may think. Atlantic Monthly. 176(1), 101-8.

Duval, B.K. & Main, L. (1992). Automated Library Systems: A Librarians Guide and
Teaching Manual. London: Meckler

Nelson, N.M., (Ed.) (1990). Library Technology 1970-1990: Shaping the Library of
the Future. Research Contributions from the 1990 Computers in Libraries
Conference. London: Meckler.

Pitkin, G.M. (Ed.) (1991). The Evolution of Library Automation: Management
Issues and Future Perspectives. London: Meckler.


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