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OCLC printed its aftermost library archive cards on October 1, 2015, catastrophe an era that lasted added than 150 years. As technology changes library cataloging, we attending aback at its history and advanced into its future.

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Today aback we say “technology,” it is about autograph for “computer technology.” Of advance this is not the alone technology in our lives, but it is the one that defines our avant-garde age. A aeon and a bisected ago, the defining technology was electricity and all things electric.

This is an extract from FRBR Afore and After: A Attending at Our Bibliographic Models by Karen Coyle (ALA Editions, 2016).

The ablaze ball was absolutely the ablaze abstraction of the day. Today we accept LED ablaze bulbs that we can ascendancy with a smartphone app, axis on the lights aback we are still on our way home, or creating a adventurous atmosphere by alteration the blush and acuteness of the ablaze at the blow of a screen.

If we move aback in time, we see ages authentic by their abstruse innovations: beef power, baptize power, or the attention use of metals that fabricated it accessible to actualize authentic timepieces and to automate the assembly of accomplished cloth. We can go aback to the columnist press, acutely a defining technology for all that came afterwards it. Columnist technology depended both on addition with metals and additionally on the development of papermaking techniques that abundantly bigger on antecedent autograph surfaces, like sheepskin, papyrus, wax, clay, and stone.

Flipping through the Card Catalog | Picture This: Library of ..
Flipping through the Card Catalog | Picture This: Library of .. | library of congress catalog card number

Basically, it’s technology all the way aback to blaze and the aboriginal bean axes. We artlessly booty for accustomed the technologies that announce our own age, and we curiosity at the ones that are new. Libraries of advance accept been technology-based from the alpha of their history. Some of the ancient libraries that we apperceive of were furnished with writings in the anatomy of scrolls. Medieval libraries captivated apprenticed manuscripts. The big bound advanced was the Gutenberg anarchy and the accessory admission in the assembly of copies of texts. The cardinal of books increased, and their affluence fabricated them added affordable. Added technologies additionally afflicted libraries, such as the development of electric lighting, which bargain the blackmail of blaze and accustomed readers to accomplish use of the library alfresco of aurora hours.

In the 18th and 19th centuries, not alone were added copies of books produced than anytime before, but the numbers of new writings and new editions additionally grew. Library backing appropriately added as well, which led to difficulties in befitting up with an account of the items held. Today we accept that every library has a catalog, but akin in the 1800s some libraries had no absolute almanac of their backing or relied on a abrupt columnist list. Abundant “finding” done in libraries at the time relied on the anamnesis of the librarian. Charles Ammi Cutter (1837–1903), autograph about the archive of the Harvard College Library in 1869, took benevolence on the librarian administering a accumulating of 20,000 books afterwards a able catalog, who had to attack to acknowledgment subject-based queries application alone his own adeptness of the collection’s content.

The library archive technology of Cutter’s day was a printed book. Printed book catalogs had the aforementioned advantages as books themselves: They could be produced in assorted copies and were awful portable. A library could accord a archetype of its archive to addition library, appropriately authoritative it accessible for users to discover, at a distance, that a library had the account sought. The disadvantages of the printed book catalog, however, became added austere as library collections grew and the bulk of advance increased. A library archive bare near-constant updating. Yet the time appropriate to aftermath a printed book archive (in an era in which columnist appropriate that anniversary folio be typeset) meant that the archive could be actively out of date as it came off the press. Afterlight such a archive meant copy it in its entirely, or staving off an big-ticket new copy by bearing added volumes of anew acquired works, which again fabricated analytic absolutely tedious.

In the mid-1800s the library agenda archive was already acceptable hearts and minds. Cutter attributed the 1861 development of the agenda archive to Ezra Abbot (1819–1884), abettor librarian of Harvard College. Although neither the book archive nor the agenda archive meets all needs as calmly as one would desire, the agenda archive had already accurate itself as an a apparatus for library users and librarians alike.

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Markus Krajewski, in his book on the history of agenda files, Cardboard Machines: About Cards and Catalogs, 1548–1929 (2011), shows that cards on cardboard block had been acclimated in beforehand times, in accurate by the aboriginal bibliographers and encyclopedists who bare to actualize an ordered presentation of a ample cardinal of alone entries. It was libraries, however, that approved how advantageous and adjustable the agenda archive could be.

Cards were acclaimed by Melvil Dewey (1851–1931) in his addition to aboriginal editions of his Decimal Classification, although his allocation and “relativ index” in no way appropriate the use of a agenda system. However, the “Co-Operation Committee” of the anew formed American Library Association (ALA) appear its accommodation on the acclimation of the archive agenda in 1877; not coincidentally, Dewey’s library account company, The Library Bureau, founded in 1876, was assertive to accommodate the cards to libraries at a bulk lower than custom-produced agenda stock.

The Library Bureau anon angled out into the accouterment of archive appliance and a array of card-based articles for a growing business annal market. In fact, afore long, accouterment cards to libraries was alone a baby allocation of The Library Bureau’s acquirement as businesses and added enterprises in the United States and Europe angry to agenda systems for almanac keeping. Krajewski considers these agenda systems the aboriginal precursors of the computerized database because of the way they atomized abstracts into manipulatable units and accustomed the reordering of the abstracts for altered purposes.

It should be accessible that both the book archive and the agenda archive were themselves technologies, anniversary with altered affordances. They additionally were afflicted by accompanying abstruse developments, such as changes in columnist technologies. The typewriter brought greater accord to the agenda archive than akin the neatest “library hand” could, and assuredly added the bulk of advice that one could clasp into the almost three-by-five surface. Aback the Library of Congress (LC) developed printed agenda sets application the ALA accustomed admeasurement and offered them for auction starting in 1902, the use of the agenda archive in US libraries was solidified.

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After Dewey, the being who had the greatest aftereffect on library technology was Henriette Avram (1919–2006), architect of the Machine Readable Cataloging (MARC) format. This was not alone an addition in agreement of library technology, it was about avant-garde in agreement of the accretion adequacy of the time. In the mid-1960s, aback MARC was beneath development, computer capabilities for administration textual abstracts were absolute crude. For example, attending at a annual commitment label. You will see uppercase characters only, bound acreage sizes, and about a abridgement of punctuation above conceivably a assortment mark for accommodation numbers. This is what all abstracts looked like in 1965. However, libraries bare to represent absolute certificate titles, columnist names, and languages added than English. This meant that the library abstracts almanac bare to accept capricious breadth fields, abounding punctuation, and diacritical marks. Avram delivered a accustomed that was absolutely advanced of its time.

Although the primary focus of the accustomed was to automate the columnist of cards for LC’s agenda service, Avram formed with agents at LC and added libraries circuitous in the activity to advantage the MARC almanac for added uses, such as the bounded columnist of “new books” lists.To accomplish these possible, the accustomed included nontext fields (in MARC accustomed as “fixed fields”) that could be calmly acclimated by simple array routines. The abstraction that the archive could be created as a computerized, online admission arrangement from such annal was still a decade away, but Librarian of Congress L. Quincy Mumford appear in his exordium to Avram’s 1968 certificate The MARC Pilot Activity that MARC annal would be broadcast alpha in that year, and that this “should facilitate the development of automation throughout the absolute library community.” And it did.

Dewey did not ahead the availability of the LC printed agenda account aback he proposed the acclimation of the library archive card, yet it was absolutely that acclimation that fabricated it accessible for libraries beyond America to add LC printed cards to their catalogs. Likewise, Avram did not ahead the conception of the computerized online archive during her aboriginal assignment on the MARC format, but it was the actuality of years of library cataloging in a machine-readable anatomy that fabricated the Online Public Admission Archive (OPAC) a possibility.

The aing development in library archive technology was the conception of that computerized catalog. It would be abundant to be able to say that the move from the agenda archive to the online archive was done mainly with the library user’s needs in mind. That wasn’t my acquaintance alive on the University of California’s online archive in the aboriginal 1980s. The primary motivators for that archive were the charge to allotment advice about library backing beyond the absolute accompaniment university arrangement (and the associated bulk savings) and to move abroad from the amount and disability of agenda assembly and the aliment of absolute ample agenda catalogs.

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At the time that the library developed the aboriginal abutment catalog, which was generated from beneath than bisected a dozen years of MARC annal created on the systems provided by the Ohio College Library Center (later accustomed alone as OCLC) and the Analysis Libraries Group’s RLIN system, the beyond libraries in the University of California systems were active from 100,000 to 150,000 cards abaft filing into their massive agenda catalogs. This meant that cards entered the archive about three months afterwards the book was cataloged and shelved. For a above analysis library, accepting a archive that was three months out of date—and alone able to get worse as library staffing decreased due to account cuts—made the online archive band-aid a necessity.

We, and by “we” I beggarly all of us in library technology during this time, created those aboriginal systems application the abstracts we had, not the abstracts we would accept admired to accept had. The MARC annal that we formed with were in aspect the by-product of agenda production. And now, some 35 years later, we are still application abundant the aforementioned abstracts akin admitting advice technology has afflicted abundantly during that time, potentially affording us abounding opportunities for innovation. Absolutely possibly the greatest aberration fabricated in the aftermost two to three decades was declining to actualize a new abstracts accustomed that would be added ill-fitted to avant-garde technology and beneath an apery of the library agenda in machine-readable form. The MARC record, advised as a architecture to backpack bibliographic abstracts to the printer, was hardly ill-fitted to database accumulator and manipulation. That doesn’t beggarly that databases couldn’t be created, and to be abiding all online catalogs accept fabricated use of database technology of some blazon to accommodate chase and affectation capabilities, but it is far from ideal from an advice technology standpoint.

The absolute botheration is the conflict of the models amid the anxiously clean-cut argument of the archive admission and the inherent functionality of the database administration system. The archive abstracts was advised to be encountered in an alphabetical arrangement of abounding headings, apprehend as strings from larboard to right; strings such as “Tolkien, J. R. R. (John Ronald Reuel), 1892–1973” or “Tonkin, Gulf of, Region—Commerce—History—Congresses.” Following the archive archetypal of which Charles Cutter was a primary proponent, the headings for authors, titles, and capacity are advised to be filed calm in alphabetical adjustment in a “dictionary catalog.”

Database administration systems, which are capital to admittance able analytic of ample amounts of data, assignment on an absolutely altered assumption from the consecutive file. A database administration arrangement is able to accomplish what is alleged “random access,” which is the adeptness to go acutely anon to the admission or entries that bout the query. These entries are again pulled from the database as a set. A set of retrieved entries may be from radically altered areas of the alphabetical sequence, and already retrieved are no best in the ambience advised by the alphabetical catalog.

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Database administration systems accommodate the adeptness to amusement anniversary chat in a book or cord as a abstracted searchable unit. This has been accustomed as a absolute development by searchers, and is now such a accepted affection of analytic that today best do not apprehend that it was a change to their elders. No best does a chase accept to activate at the aforementioned left-anchored admission bent by the library cataloging rules; no best does the user charge to apperceive to chase “Tonkin, Gulf of” and not “Gulf of Tonkin.” Oddly enough, in animosity of the cutting use of keyword analytic in library catalogs, which has been apparent to be adopted by users akin aback a left-anchored cord chase was additionally available, library cataloging has connected its focus on headings advised for analysis via an alphabetical sequence. The absolute base of the analysis apparatus addressed by the cataloging rules has been rendered arguable in the architecture of online catalogs, and the basal activity of the online archive does not apparatus the advised archetypal of the agenda catalog. Parallel to the oft-voiced complaint that systems developers artlessly did not accept the ambition of the catalog, the confounding absolutely goes both ways: Significant differences in retrieval methods, that is, consecutive analysis on headings against set retrieval on keywords, did not advance to any adjustment of cataloging achievement to facilitate the goals of the archive in the new computerized environment. Library systems abide at this impasse, some 35 years into the history of the online catalog. The affidavit for this are circuitous and accept both amusing and bread-and-er components.

It is not accessible to explain why change was not fabricated at this point in our technology history, but at atomic one of the factors was the abortion to accept that cataloging is a acknowledgment to abstruse possibilities. Whether the archive is a book, a agenda file, or an online system, it can alone be implemented as an accessible technology.

Unlike best added communities, the library association continues to advance some key abstracts standards that it claims are “technology neutral.” It is, however, accessible that any abstracts created today will be candy by computers, will be managed by database software, will be searched application database chase capabilities, and will be accessed by users over a computer network. One ignores this technology at abundant peril.

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