A Brief History of Library Automation

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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...
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