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Timeline of Major Events in Library Computing

It is difficult to imagine a library today without computers. Most libraries devote at least part of their physical space to housing them. Patrons of all walks of life come to the library specifically to use them. Computers organize our collections, promote our collections, facilitate sharing of our collections, allow patrons to browse our collections, and – increasingly – have come to contain part of our collections. An exploration of the evolution of the computer-based library should consider not so much the hardware that makes it all possible, but rather the changes in how we use and think about computers. Physically the computers found in libraries are not significantly different from the computers found in banks, government offices, hospitals, homes, and schools; it is how we use them that makes library computing unique.

The Complex Number Calculator 1940

Bell Telephone Laboratories builds the Complex Number Calculator (CNC) which performed calculations remotely through the telephone lines. This invention would eventually lead to remote networking computers. (“Timeline of computer history”, 2006) (“1940: Complex number generator”, 2013)


The Complex Number Generator (“Timeline of computer history, 2006)

Online Reference Retrieval Systems 1964

In 1964, the first online reference retrieval systems begin to appear. Using standard telephone lines they can transmit requests, not for the actual articles or texts, but for bibliographic information about resources that fit the search parameters prescribed by the librarians conducting the search. (Drew, Summit, & Whiteley, 1966) (“Library technology timeline”, 2004)


A punch card of the style used in libraries in the 1960s (Google images)

MARC I 1966

The advance of computer-based cataloging and collection management could not proceed without a system of communicating bibliographic information that was concise and machine readable. MARC (Machine Readable Cataloging) was released in 1966 and a version is still being used today. MARC II followed quickly in 1968. (Rayward, 2002) (“A brief history of WorldCat”, 2013)


A MARC record (Connolly-Brown, 2013)

OCLC and WorldCat 1971

The collaborative efforts of librarians and computer programers in the late 1960s and early 1970s lead to the creation of the OCLC (Ohio College Library Center) Online Union Catalog (OLUC) that would eventually come to be known as WorldCat. OLUC allowed sharing, via telephone lines, the collections of several libraries. (OCLC, 1980) (OCLC, 2013)


WorldCat as it appears in 2013 (Connolly-Brown, 2013)

Electronic Resources 1970s

Beginning in the 1970s, libraries began to have access to electronic, index resources such as journals, magazines, and newspapers. Over the next 40 years access would only get faster, cheaper, and more reliable. Today patrons can access these resources from their homes. (Burke, 2009) (Flynn, 2011)


The introduction of the Online Public Access Cataloging (OPAC) and Integrated Library Systems (ILS) meant that patrons no longer needed to rely on librarians to conduct searchers for them. In most cases, patrons could search not just books, but serials, microfilm, and other collections using the OPAC. (Byrum, 2005) (Eberhart, 2000)


A patron using the online card catalog in the 1980s (UW Madison Libraries, 2013)


An library OPAC in 2013 (Connolly-Brown, 2013)

Commercial Internet 1991

The World Wide Web was born in 1990 and 1991 saw the first commercial use of the internet via dial-up modems that transmitted data at a rate of 56 kilobits per second. The internet was quickly adopted though the “web” would not be easily searchable for some time yet. (“Timeline of computer history”, 2006) (Rayward, 2002)

amazon early screen shot nov 2009

Amazon’s homepage in 1994 (Telco 2.0 Research, 2009)

Online Search Engines 1994

The early internet was not indexed and therefore files had to be shared largely through FTP and knowing the exact address of a site. Though not the earliest attempt to index the World Wide Web, Webcrawler, introduced in 1994, was the first web directory to search the entire text of a website. (Sonnenreich, 1997) (Jaworski & Sullivan, 2010) (“A short history of search engines”, n.d.)


Timeline of search engines until 2005 (2013)

Mobile Computing Devices and Apps 1996

Personal computing devices, beginning with devices such as the Palm Pilot, become available around 1996 and quickly become mainstream. By 2012, 45% of Americans owned a smart phone with the ability to access the internet and mobile apps. Library specific mobile apps are used for variety of purposes. (Pew Internet, 2013) (Montecino, 2010)


The Nexus 4 being used for GPS navigation (Nexus 4, 2013)

IEEE 802.11 Implementation (Wireless) 1997

The first standardized wireless protocol IEEE 802.11 is released for public use and quickly changes how patrons and librarians use computers but untethering computer devices and allowing for more mobility of computing. (IEEE, 2012) (Burke, 2009)


An example of a mixed wireless network environment today (Pocket PC Central, 2008)

Social Media 1997

Social networking as it is as old as the internet, but the first social media site widely available to the public was SixDegrees.com where users could create a profile and connect with their friends. Today most libraries have a presence online in social communities where they connect with their patrons. (Oggolder, 2012) (Boyd & Ellison, 2007)


Launch dates of major social media sites (Oggolder, 2012)


The 21st Century library is increasingly becoming a place in which technology and computers play a vital role in how patrons interact with information and resources and how librarians provide those resources. Charting the chronology of the most important events in library computing is a difficult task as computing has historically evolved in leaps and bounds, fits and starts. Several inovative minds will often come to the same eureka! moment almost simultaneously and technology follows suit. However, without an understanding of where they have been and a willingness to learn and adapt, libraries of the future cannot possibly hope to continue to to play a dynamic, relavent role in the lives of their patrons in the years to come.


Amazon homepage 1994 [online image]. (2012). Retrieved from Telco 2.0 Research, March 14, 2013, from http://libguides.gwumc.edu/content.php?pid=168844&sid=1421729

A short history of search engines”. (n.d). Retrieved March 12, 2013, from http://comminfo.rutgers.edu/~ssaba/550/Week05/History.html

AT&T Labs. (2013). “1940: Complex number generator”. Retrieved on March 2, 2013, from http://www.corp.att.com/attlabs/reputation/timeline/40generator.html

Boyd, D. M., & Ellison, N. B. (2007). Social network sites: Definition, history, and scholarship. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 13(1), article 11. http://jcmc.indiana.edu/vol13/issue1/boyd.ellison.html

Burke, J. (2009). Library technology companion (3rd edition). Chicago: Neal-Schuman.

Byrum, J. D. (2005). Online catalogs and library portals in today’s information environment. Journal of Library Administration, 43(1/2), 135-154.

Computer library catalog [online image]. (2013). UW – Madison Libraries. Retrieved March 10, 2013, from http://www.college.library.wisc.edu/about/faq/history.shtml#images

Cooke, M. (1977). Future library network automation. Journal of The American Society For Information Science, 28(5), 254-258.

Drew, D. L., Summit, R. K., & Whiteley, R. B. (1966). An On-Line Technical Library Reference Retrieval System. American Documentation,17(1), 3-7.

Eberhart, G. M. (2000). The whole library handbook 3: current data, professional advice, and curiosa about libraries and library services. Chicago: American Library Association.

Eden, B. (2007). Reinventing the OPAC. Library Technology Reports, 43(6), 13-40.

Elrod, J. (1976). Is the card catalogue’s unquestioned sway in North America ending?. Journal of Academic Librarianship, 2(1), 4-8.

Flynn, M. (2011). From dominance to decline? The future of bibliographic discovery, access and delivery. Art Libraries Journal, 36(2), 33-36.

History. (2012). OCLC. Retrieved March 14, 2013, from http://www.oclc.org/research/partnership

IEEE. (2012). “Wireless LAN 802.11 Wi-Fi”. Retrieved March 9, 2013, from http://www.ieeeghn.org/wiki/index.php/Wireless_LAN_802.11_Wi-Fi

Jaworski, S., & Sullivan, R. (2010). Google’s evolution leads to library revolution. Journal of Educational Technology Systems, 39(2), 107-118.

Jia, M., & Cathy, W. (2008). Revitalizing the library OPAC: Interlace, searching, and display challenges. Information Technology & Libraries, 27(1), 5-22.

Johnson, F. C., & Craven, J. (2010). Beyond usability: The study of functionality of the 2.0 online catalogue (OPAC). New Review of Academic Librarianship, 16(2), 228-250.

Kilgour, F. G. (1966). Library catalogue production on small computers. American Documentation, 17(3), 124-131.

Library technology timeline.” (2004). Queens College CUNY. Retrieved March 10, 2013, from http://www.york.cuny.edu/~valero/timeline_reference_citations.htm

Mixed wireless network diagram [online image]. (2008). Retrieved from Pocket PC Central, March 9, 2013, from http://pocketpccentral.net/wrlesnetrk2.htm

Montecino, V. (2010). “History of computing.” Retrieved April 28, 2013, from http://mason.gmu.edu/~montecin/computer-hist-web.htm

Nagy, A. (2011). Chapter 5: The impact of the next-generation catalog. Library Technology Reports, 47(7), 18-20.

Nexus 4 [online image]. (2013). Retrieved March 14, 2013, from http://betanews.com/2012/11/27/google-resumes-nexus-4-sales/

OCLC. (2013). “A brief history of Worldcat.” OCLC. Retrieved March 09, 2013, from https://www.oclc.org/worldcat/catalog/timeline.en.html

OCLC. (1980). Journal of Academic Librarianship, 6(5), 287-288.

Oggolder, C. (2012). Inside – outside. Web history and the ambivalent relationship between old and new media. Historical Social Research, 37(4), 134-149.

Pew Internet. (2013). “Smart phone ownership update: September 2012”. Retrieved on April 28, 2013, from http://pewinternet.org/Reports/2012/Smartphone-Update-Sept-2012/Findings.aspx

Rayward, W. B. (2002). A history of computer applications in libraries: prolegomena. IEEE Annuals of the History of Computing, 24(2), 4-15.

Search engine timeline [online image]. Retrieved March 14, 2013, from http://bing4amonth.wordpress.com/2013/02/22/article-review-history/

Sonnenreich, W. (1997). “A history of search engines.” Retrieved from Wiley, March 12, 2013, from http://www.wiley.com/legacy/compbooks/sonnenreich/history.html

Timeline of computer history.” (2006). Computer History Museum. Retrieved March 12, 2013, from http://www.computerhistory.org/timeline/?gclid=COavn6TCiLYCFQrNnAodaioA3w


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