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Director's Column

PLSJC Director Alan Hall writes a weekly column discussing library and community news, history, and other interesting subjects.

Library Automation 1980s

By Alan Hall, Director, PLSJ
Publish Date - Sunday, January 19, 2014


Earlier this month, I was reminded at I am now the only remaining library director who was around when the SEO Library Center’s automation system was started in 1988.


The person had some questions about the beginnings of the current computer system and wondered how it all got started, and was pointed my direction.


Actually, when arrived on-scene in 1983, meetings were already being held to figure out how to automate public libraries in rural Ohio, with not many solutions available at the time.


In the early 1980s, only the metropolitan libraries used automated systems with circuitry available in the cities to link their libraries.  Large tape drive computer systems processed data from branch locations, and processed checkout records.


In various locations around the nation, smaller libraries tried various transmission networks to move data, but solutions were far and few between.


A meeting held at the St. Clairsville Public Library found several libraries “interested,” but the practicality and cost of computer links left the subject on the table awaiting better solutions.


In 1985, the State Library announced plans to automate its Southeastern Center in Caldwell, and if there were interested public libraries within the 11 county service area, they would work with us to bring automation to interested libraries.


Libraries in Cadiz, St. Clairsville, Woodsfield, and our own system all signed an agreement for automation; but it took another three years before the project became a reality.


We all began by batch feeding our “shelf list” of catalog cards into a computer and downloading codes onto a “floppy disc” which was sent to Columbus and compared against a major database to have electronic records for the books.


The four libraries moved along, and began bar coding books against the database so we could begin checking out online by mid-1989.


Everyone used telephone lines in those days; each one could handle 16 terminals to process data.


Automation was somewhat traumatic for our system as the ancient system of pull-cards with metal tabs could never work on an automated system, and there were difficult days in the beginning as we moved to new systems.


The Barnesville Library wanted to join, and we were able to squeeze them onto the existing main frame system at Caldwell, but others would require an additional rack for communication.


By 1992, the system had doubled in size and every new library brought a wealth of new books into the system.  The card catalog was replaced the next year with a clunky system that was better than those 3 x 5 cards.


The big change happened in 1995 with the introduction of graphic interfaces, and the shrinking size of the central computer equipment.


The twenty years since have brought a endless array of improvements and upgrades, with some times of irritation as the SEO system has grown to today’s 90 library systems with 250 locations around Ohio, with over 7 million items in the system.


On weekday mornings, some 1,400 computer across the state are logged online around 9 o’clock

to begin meeting the needs of the public in their communities.


Now eBooks and materials bring a whole new generation of information to the system as people use their hand-held devices to access information.


I am proud to be the only “old feller” still in the system from those olden days of computers and technology.


I also remember the day that someone unplugged the communications equipment to plug in a vacuum cleaner, not realizing the significance of such a move.


Those days are gone, well I think they are gone……well we still ask if you have checked the plug before calling repair service.