:: Digital Libraries Columns


Library Journal "Digital Libraries" Columns 1997-2007, Roy Tennant

Please note: these columns are an archive of my Library Journal column from 1997-2007. They have not been altered in content, so please keep in mind some of this content will be out of date. :: Digital Libraries Columns

Looking Back To Go Forward


   My story is probably similar to many others. We saw, we learned, we
   used, and we eventually discarded. For every technology like the web,
   there are at least five other technologies that have passed into

   We all must learn to excel at making transitions from one technology to
   the next, since that is now firmly a part of our professional
   responsibilities. We also need to help our organizations foster
   transitions better than they do. Organizations are by their nature
   conservative, which tends to make transitions difficult and slow.
   Individuals and organizations that foster and enable rapid, effective
   change will rule and lead the way.

   I turn 50 this year, and I find myself looking back both in terms of
   what I've experienced and accomplished (or not). I've been lucky to be
   present during a revolutionary change in librarianship.

   Computers take hold

   When I volunteered in a public library in Indiana at 17, we still had
   many library catalog cards written in "library hand." Library
   automation was starting (we got Library of Congress catalog cards), but
   the typewriter was our technological pinnacle.

   At my next job, I worked at a California community college library,
   where we mimeographed library cards in-house and received preproduced
   records. I first used a computer there, a Commodore PET 64, took a
   BASIC programming class, and wrote a rudimentary library orientation
   program, stored on cassette tape.

   As a student and library employee at Humboldt State University, I
   programmed in FORTRAN on a Harris mainframe to analyze geographic data,
   wrote Cobol and Pascal programs for school, and was a machine operator
   for the library's CLSI automated circulation system. Hosted on a PDP-11
   minicomputer, it accumulated data on disk packs of several large
   metallic platters that stored much less than I now carry around on my
   USB keychain drive. I also lived through the Macintosh revolution in
   1984 and have used the Mac ever since.

   Adios, Smith Corona

   At the University of California (UC)-Berkeley, I created my last
   typewriter-produced document, since microcomputers were finally
   becoming widely available. My work included helping to organize a
   barcoding project for thousands of books, which launched circulation
   automation. I also helped specify how the in-house library catalog and
   circulation system should work, and this system amazingly still
   operates today, now behind a web interface.

   While in library school, I connected to Dialog to do online searches
   using an acoustic coupler modem operating at 300 bps. Later, I wrote
   documentation and taught workshops on connecting to the library catalog
   via modem. At that time, "online searching" was something only
   librarians did.

   The Internet debuts

   Not long after, I was part of the Internet revolution, cowriting one of
   the first dozen books on the Internet, Crossing the Internet Threshold.
   With a couple of UC colleagues, I did a poster session on the Internet
   at the 1990 American Library Association conference.

   In the early 1990s, I was part of a UC-Berkeley task force that
   selected Gopher instead of the web to create a library information
   system. In our defense, this was before the first graphical web client
   (Mosaic) was released for the PC and Mac. When it became evident that
   the web had won, we moved everything from Gopher to the web, another
   hard lesson in technology adoption.

   I have mastered, used, and discarded Apple's HyperCard software (an
   excellent introduction to the web, as it turned out), Gopher and
   Veronica, and Wide Area Information Servers (WAIS). I learned computer
   languages including BASIC, FORTRAN, Cobol, Pascal, and Perl, but I only
   use the latter.

   After looking back over the past 30 years, I can't begin to imagine
   where we will end up in another 30 years. But the point isn't to be
   able to predict the future but to help create it. And that we can do.

   For more on the wired library, see the netConnect supplement mailed
   with the January, April 15, July, and October 15 issues of LJ

                                               LINK LIST
   Acoustic Coupler Modem
   [123] Commodore History
   [124] Crossing the Internet Threshold
   [126] Library Catalog Cards at UPenn
   library/cards/cards.samples.html Library Hand