This column presents links and essays about the development of technologies, tools, and systems that have revolutionized libraries and information management. It especially seeks to highlight the broader cultural implications of these developments. Please consider writing a post about the history of a technological application or change in cataloging at your library.
Note (April 2, 2020): Competing Classifications at the Library of Indiana University, 1898-1918
By Dr. Catherine J. Minter
Author Bio: Dr. Catherine J. Minter is an arts and humanities librarian at Indiana University Bloomington. She is the author of several published articles on library and information history. She is particularly interested in cross-cultural connections between Western European and North American librarianship in the nineteenth century.
Intro from the Editor: Here is an exceptional essay about a little known story in the annals of libraries. It deals with the clash of classifications in American librarianship that played out at the Indiana University Libraries. The article draws from a strong base of primary sources, including German-language materials and an intriguing unpublished manuscript by an Indiana University librarian, Ida Wolf, entitled Library of Congress Classification; A Criticism. 1937. Many thanks to Dr. Minter for illuminating a fascinating chapter in her library’s history–which is also a case study of an issue at the very heart of information science history! Enjoy her full essay here.
Note (January 17, 2019): Historicizing Digital Humanities and its Changing Role in Knowledge Forms
Author Bio: Lauren Rossi is currently completing the Master of Information program at Rutgers University with a concentration in library and information science. Along with this, she works at both an academic and public library. Lauren hopes to continue to work with the public and students in a library setting and assist with research and literary needs.
Intro from the Editor: Digital humanities (DH) is a new field in libraries–but thanks to enterprising work by Ms. Rossi we already have a historical treatment of the subject. In this disciplined, formal analysis, she presents a theoretical overview of DH based on some of its seminal works, and she then uses structured keyword searches and content analysis to trace the themes of this new field. Her findings point to the need for more research on the behind-the-scenes work that goes into a digital project as well as the need to capture content and experiences for a wider diversity of world populations. Thank you, Ms. Rossi, for taking a historical lens to the surging field of DH! Check out her excellent paper here: History of Digital Humanities.
Note (September 1, 2017): The Evolution of Card Catalogs
By Chloe Waryan, University of Iowa
Author Bio: Chloe Waryan is a MLIS candidate at the University of Iowa. She entered into the library field by way of urban public libraries, as a patron, a volunteer, and eventually an employee. Chloe’s professional interests include access, preservation, and outreach.
Introduction from the Editor: I am pleased to publish this essay about the card catalog, one of my favorite historic library technologies. Ms. Waryan highlights the various phases of the catalog’s development–hand-written card catalogs, to typewritten ones, to today’s electronic systems–and binds the entire story together with the theme of accessibility. During the catalog’s metamorphosis from hand-written to printed slips, she discusses how librarians debated in their journals about which typewriter was the most efficient for producing cards. In the parts of the story about the computer revolution, I found it most interesting to learn that some libraries who admired the accessibility of the OPAC but wanted to retain the “old school charm” of the physical catalog fused them together by creating electronic catalogs that had actual images of the old cards. After covering the recent growth of discovery systems and mobile apps, her fitting conclusion is “though libraries in 1900 did not know what kind of future the latest technology would bring in 2017, they still shared the mission of accessibility. Regardless of era and technology, providing accessible and organized cataloging services to library users is the top priority of the public library.” Bravo, Ms. Waryan, for an excellent essay! Read her full essay here: Evolution of_Card_Catalogs.
A Mash-Up of Innovations That Transformed Libraries
By Brett Spencer, Editor
I present below various free web sites about library innovations that I hope will spark interest, encourage the reader to delve more deeply, and write up a paper for LHRT News and Notes or another venue. The history of library innovations offers infinite vistas for the researcher!
History of Information Retrieval (American Society for Indexing)
Reveals the ancient origins of Table of Contents, Alphabetization, Hierarchies of Information, and Indexes. Wow, I have taken these for granted, but what would libraries be without these innovations? The site notes that indexes go all the way back to ancient Roman days. Librarians would attach tiny slips of paper to papyrus scrolls that featured the title of each scroll; patrons could then identify a needed scroll before pulling it from the shelves.
The Photostat in Reference Work (By Charles Flowers McCombs of the New York Public Library, 1920)
The Roaring Twenties evokes images of flappers, prohibition, jazz music–and the first photocopiers in libraries. This intriguing booklet, published in 1920, reports on the NYPL’s first photostat machine and predicts that it will revolutionize reference services. Howard S. Leach, a Princeton librarian, also published an article the same year in Scientific American that further detailed the ways microfilming of sources helped historical researchers, pointing out that it was more convenient and avoided wear and tear to original primary sources. His arguments for photocopying in the Twenties sound strikingly similar to the arguments for digitization of archival materials today. Perhaps someone could write up an article fleshing out that idea?
The MARC Pilot Project (By Henriette D. Avram, 1968, Digitized by the Southwest Museum of Engineering, Communications and Computation)