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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.

The Computer in the Library 2014

By Alan Hall, Director, PLSJ
Publish Date - Sunday, August 3, 2014


[library article 3 AUG 2014]


By Alan Hall




My first experience with a computer in my library career happened in 1978 when the library acquired a “computer” to help produce catalog cards and labels for books.


By today’s definition of a computer, it really wasn’t much of a computer; as it only had a tiny memory card that could remember the quantity of information on a 3 x 5 catalog card and repeat the production of that information as many times as needed.


To a librarian in 1978, it was a jewel of a machine as it increased the speed of the production of these cards for the catalog, and the librarian no longer would retype the same card over and over to produce cards for the author, title, and subjects of a book.


Such a machine today would be a candidate for a museum, or for use as a boat anchor.


Technology quickly moved to computers with many times more memory and operating abilities, with the floppy disc which could be removed and stored with its information.


The floppy allowed libraries to “move” information from place to place if only by physical shipping.  The 1980s brought connectivity to computer networks, and everyone was going to then named Public Library of Columbus and Franklin County to see their computer system link branches and checkout books.


There was still an ink stamp at the desk, as the computer lacked a means of telling a human being when their book was due back to the library.


My thought was that the hinterlands of Ohio would never see such computers, but as usual, I was wrong and in 1988 our library joined with Cadiz, St. Clairsville, and Woodsfield to see how we could all like together with the State Library to have an automated checkout system.


A Multiplexer was the name of the equipment that allowed computer bytes to be sent over dedicated telephone lines, with up to 16 terminals buzzing binary codes to the mainframe computer in Caldwell, Ohio.


I was nervous about the whole thing, as the public library in Caldwell itself didn’t join; they wanted us to try it first.


Lights flashed on the front of the Multiplexer showing data transmission, and all was well.  In a short time, Barnesville was ready to give it a spin, and we squeezed them into the machine which operated at 56K, or 56,000 bytes per second which seemed like lightning speed.


All was fine when it was just simple code going over the line, but by 1993 we wanted our card catalog online and that was more complex and we needed multiple-Multiplexers and more phone lines.


Then we wanted to send graphics and pictures, and those gophers became electronic mail, and then people wanted to touch the computers themselves.


Routers replace Multiplexers and OPLIN (Ohio Public Library Information Network) was formed to link us to the Internet, that online thing that allowed information to be shared, and the routers allowed data to be sent at 1 megabit per second over a T-1 line.


Multiple T-1 lines became common to satisfy the need for Wi-Fi in all our buildings since people brought their laptops to connect to the Internet.


In addition to checking out books, the library is now downloading eBooks and online databases, and retrieving forms and documents for people, and people are downloading; and nothing is fast enough anymore.


So, here we are in 2014 in the process of a major upgrade of our whole library system, moving to Horizon Fiber Optic service that links into the State Communications Network.


The smallest branches will have 5 million bytes per second feeding into a link of 100 million bytes per second, with the capability of increasing that as the need progresses.


From printing a book spine label to running a color production in 35 years; it baffles my mind and can be an administrative nightmare to manage.


And in the 1980s it all came to a screeching halt when the custodian unplugged the Multiplexer so he could plug in his vacuum cleaner.