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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
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 California s 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
The introduction of CD-ROMs in the late 80 s 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 90 s 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.
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.
A Brief History of Library Automation: 1930-1996
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