v.22 #5 Back Talk: Reminiscences and Looking Forward

Column Editor: Anthony (Tony) W. Ferguson (Library Director, University of Hong Kong; Phone: 852 2859 2200; Fax: 852 2858 9420) ferguson@hkucc.hku.hk

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Beginning in the 1970’s, the effects of information technology upon the operation of libraries became very pronounced.  Catalog cards up to that point in time had been produced using small printing machines which could put out card sets that had to be filed by hand.  Since this filing work was very tedious and time consuming, I remember all librarians — irrespective of their other skills — had to help catch up with the backlog of filing at all the libraries I worked in the early 1970’s.  The rules for filing author, title, and subject cards were arcane and really only understood by cataloging department staff.  But they had to allow others to help.  We would file the cards but would not pull the rods which passed through holes in the bottom of each card to keep them from being stolen for use as scratch paper.  Instead our cataloging department colleagues would first check our work, fixing our mistakes, and then pull the rods out allowing our cards to drop down into place.

But with the 1970’s, all of this cataloging information began to be input into the computer.  Initially, when I went to library school in 1971 each of us had to create small programs employing “IBM cards” which were then loaded into card readers (taller and longer than a desk) in order to input the information into the computer (about the size of a car) which could then print out the card sets to be filed.

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