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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.

Technology and the Library

By Alan Hall, Director, PLSJ
Publish Date - Sunday, October 4, 2015


As technology has progressed and impacted public libraries, the basic reason that a library exists has not changed.


All that has changed are the tools available to librarians to provide information to the public.


The only thing that has changed in the 45 years that I have worked in libraries is all the things that we now have available to us to serve the public.


Having said all of that, technology has certainly changed those tools and requires a whole new mindset for a librarian trained in the 1970s.


My earliest encounter with technology was a typewriter with a small memory that allowed libraries to print multiple copies of catalog cards for libraries.


Great advancement for 1979, and for librarians who tired of manually typing several cards for the catalog that were exact copies of each other.


Shortly thereafter, early computer companies developed systems to load that information into a storage file, eliminating the need for the printed card.  The problem was that the needed storage capacity for even the smallest library was much larger than any of the capacity.


The first computer storage system for libraries had been developed in 1967 in Columbus, and continues today as a worldwide system for identifying library collections.  But it was 1980 before that system had public capacity, operating at Columbus Metropolitan Library.


Throughout the 1980s, various technologies were introduced to “automate” public libraries, and our Library System joined Cadiz, St. Clairsville, and Woodsfield libraries to link to the State Library of Ohio’s SE Center in Caldwell to manage the checkout and check-in of library materials.


It was a scary proposition to join something that had not yet decided how the thing would work, especially since the Caldwell Public Library, in the town where the computer was located, decided to “wait.”


In early August 1988, the equipment had been installed and one shared phone line with Cadiz allowed the first bytes of information to flow to a main frame computer.  That one phone line serviced 16 “terminals” and spit a binary code of data back and forth.


That operated for about 5 years with a large multiplexer box doing its job.


As we moved into the 1990s, OPLIN was developed and funded by the State of Ohio in 1995 and began establishing a network around the state to move data on 56K lines, much faster and needed as “terminals” were replaced by computers and downloads that now included graphics.


The card catalog was closed in 1993 and went away, requiring more power and capacity and by 1998 lines were upgraded to T-1 lines with 1.5 Megabit of capacity.


Eventually, the Ohio Public Library Information Network began what would become a never-ending upgrade of computer circuits around the state to the 251 Public Library Districts.


Complicating the effort is the myriad of available computer networks around the State of Ohio, and the noticeable lack of network capacity in southeastern Ohio and our area.


In September of this year, our Library System reached a new level of capacity as OPLIN expanded our network to 100Mb (Megabits) of computing power over fiber optic systems.


Unfortunately, it will be another 3 months before the Toronto Branch will be connected, and the Adena Branch will have to wait longer for an upgraded system.


A librarian sitting at his desk in 1977 would have no idea what a “megabit” would be, or why he would even be concerned with such a thing.


Who would think that someday the information in all those books on the shelf would fly around through the air and be shared with anyone and everyone?


Who would have imagined that the ability to drill a hole through the massive brick walls of a Carnegie Library building would be the subject of several meetings?


Of course, who also would have imagined that a librarian sitting in Jefferson County, Ohio would have access to billions and billions of bytes of information to fill the information need of the public?