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Decades of Innovation and Tips For the Future: The Tuesday Evening Session

Tuesday Evening Panel

Tuesday Evening Panel: (L-R) Marshall Breeding, Meg Backus, Jason Griffey, Jan Holmquist, Darlene Fichter

Led by Marshall Breeding, long-time CIL attendee (very long–he has attended every CIL conference since it began!), the Tuesday night session featured a lot of history, information, and amusement.  The panel included Meg Backus, IT Manager, Anchorage Public Library; Jason Griffey, Founder and Principal Consultant, Evenly Distributed, LLC; Jan Holmquist, Global Librarian, Denmark; and Darlene Fichter (GovInfo Librarian, University of Saskatchewan).

Marshall began with a trip down memory lane, looking back at CIL’s 30-year history. Libraries have experienced incredible change since the first Small Computers in Libraries conference took place 30 years ago, and so has library technology. At the start, not only did the internet not exist, but networks did not even exist. Here is an early IBM 360 mainframe for which the data was contained on those reels of magnetic tape (left rear).

IBM 360 mainframe

IBM 360 mainframe

One of the first online interfaces to the mainframe was through Telex terminals that operated at 9600 baud (a blazing speed at the time!).

Telex Terminal

Telex Terminal

Strategic library systems ran on mainframes; small computers provided tools for innovation and productivity beyond the more formal and structured mainframe systems. Here is a photo of Marshall working at home on his small computer with a monochrome monitor.

Marshall's Small Home Computer

Marshall’s Small Home Computer

The kinds of computers that were coming into libraries when CIL started had 20mB of storage, which was considered ample for the needs of the day. The operating system was CP/M–MSDOS  did not exist yet! Performance was measured in megahertz in contrast to today’s gigahertz. Here are the communication technologies of that time; there was no internet and no LANs.

Communication Technologies

Communication Technologies

Then the internet began to emerge: Telnet allowed catalogs with text menus; HyTelnet provided access to library catalogs.  FTP was used to transfer files, and e-mail became international.  CD-ROMs were used for content distribution; library databases were distributed on physical media, and they were initially intended for use on a single computer. CD-ROM networks enabled broader access. Here is Marshall managing Vanderbilt University’s CD-ROM networks.

Managing a CD-ROM Network

Managing a CD-ROM Network

Then Gopher was developed in the 1990; it had two search engines–Archie and Veronica. A new magazine, Campus Wide Information Systems, was published by Alan Meckler, and Brewster Kahle invented Wide Area Information Systems (WAIS).

In 1989, Tim Berners-Lee invented the Web, and in 1991, it began to see use outside CERN, mainly by academics.  The Mosaic client was developed in 1993 by Marc Andreeson of NCSA, and its use expanded into the general population.  Since then, many other topics have been considered at CIL:

CIL Topics

CIL Topics

Nancy Melin  Nelson, VP of Meckler Corp., was the editor of Computers in Libraries, and the conference organizer. Eric Flower started the Tuesday night sessions on “Dead Technology”, which made the point that libraries are good at doing new things but not so good at letting go of old things.  The conference was started by Alan Meckler in 1985. Tom Hogan bought it in 1995, and Jane Dysart has been Program Organizer ever since.

After the history lesson, the panelists discussed their views of today’s technologies. Meg Backus wondered where the jet packs and anti-gravity boots are that were in early books given to kids in school. We still have only simulations of cool things. The amount of creativity is disappointing; we need a broader range of imagination. Technology has actually given us fewer options because we already have it. Funding has shifted from technology to finance because that’s where the money is.  We need time for thinking and structures that reinforce the cycle of creativity.

Jason Griffey said that we don’t create enough technology because librarians are often beholden to interests not their own.  The interesting thing about technology is the speed at which it changes; at present, we are at its slowest and most expensive point; normal goods get better over time and cost more.  We have just started making technology; the next 20 years will be like nothing has happened yet. Today’s emerging technology has the capacity to change the way we live and do our jobs. We are building robots that look like things we already use, like cars. In 10 years we will see self-driving cars everywhere.  The first thing in the library world that computers will destroy is reference.

Jan Holmquist said that we should celebrate all our mistakes because they have gotten us to where we are now and make us wiser. Local is cool and depends on the wisdom of the crowd. Although we are online more, sometimes we need to be offline, and there is even an app for that! But online will be even more present in the future. Libraries should not be quiet places but loud places where all types of stuff is made. We can be inspired locally and act locally as librarians. We will be even closer in the world because of social media platforms.

Darlene Fichter showed a video: “Welcome to Tomorrowland’s Libatorium Tour”. (When she had trouble getting her computer to show the video, she predicted that in the future, devices will be personal and will work only for you because they know you.)

IBM’s Watson envisioned book reading.

IBM's Watson

IBM’s Watson

Google built an AI-driven interface to answer any question asked. Here are some early book reading devices.

Early Book Readers

Early Book Readers

Today we are talking about customized stories and social reading.

The rights we enjoy today such as the right to be forgotten, right to cloak, and right to go online are because a lot of library people were activists.

Don Hawkins
Conference Blogger

 

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