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 cquisitions.

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, n 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 eyword 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 xample, 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 Californias 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 xample. 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 rder 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, ibraries 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 80s 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 vailable 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 ibrary systems and information through the Internet and with ever improving telecommunications.

Expert systems and knowledge systems have become available in the 90s 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 flourish.

Leave a Comment