Thursday, February 1, 2007

From Punch Cards to Wikis in Three Easy Decades

As a graduate student at URI in the early 70's, I took a course in library automation. Back then, computers were massive mainframes and data was entered by cards punched with tiny holes. The computer "read" the holes to decipher the information. Computers were fairly new to libraries, and only the largest had them. I took the course, not because I expected to work in a library with such a behemoth, but because my summer schedule needed another course to stay on track for January graduation. I expected to spend my career in small New England libraries. Where would I ever see a computer?

Fast forward to the mid 80's, when, as Director of the Derry Public Library, I purchased an IBM PC. A member of our Board of Trustees helped select a few programs that we could use to manage library business. As I recall, we spent about $10,000 for the basic setup. I had to figure out, mostly on my own, what to do with this clunky new machine. MS Windows was still percolating in Bill Gates' brain, the Internet had barely opened its eyes, and "gophers" collected information. I helped write the bylaws for the Greater Manchester Integrated Library Cooperative System (now GMILCS, Inc.), but the consortium's live debut was still several years away.

Fast forward again to 2007. Now I sit at a PC all day and gather information for our patrons using the Web, subscription databases, and the online catalogs of GMILCS, the NH Automated Information System and other libraries around New Hampshire, New England, and the world. It seems like every week our more recent MLS librarians--Alex, Nancy, and Maureen--generously help me learn some new PC trick: wikis, RSS, downloadable audiobooks, Excel and Power Point, not to mention blogs. The pencil I held in my hand in 1972 has been replaced 35 years later by a laser-powered plastic gadget with two buttons. Who'd have imagined it?

Like many professions, the library field has been turned on its head by computers. While printed matter is still our main stock in trade, we use computers to select it, purchase it, catalog it, index it, find it on the shelf, locate it at another library, track it's use and even digitize it. With a world of information literally at our fingertips, this an exciting time to be a librarian. One of our patrons calls me Custodian of Hot Info. I'm honored, but I couldn't do it without my PC!

1 comment: said...

In the mid-70's I worked in a library in Port Jervis, NY with Commodore computers, and we saved data on cassette tapes. Oh, yes, how the times have changed. Today there's no such thing as too small a library, with the world wide web to keep everyone connected.
Jan Conover, Merrimack Reference Librarian