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 They have not been altered in content, so please keep in mind some of this content will be out of date.
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 oblivion. 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 en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Acoustic_coupler Commodore History www.commodore.ca Crossing the Internet Threshold worldcat.org/oclc/26661150 HyperCard en.wikipedia.org/wiki/HyperCard Library Catalog Cards at UPenn www.library.upenn.edu/exhibits/pennhistory/ library/cards/cards.samples.html Library Hand en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Library_hand __________________________________________________________________