A Brief History of Library Automation

Essay by Anonymous UserUniversity, Bachelor'sA+, November 1996

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An automated library is one where a computer system is used to

manage one or several of the library's key functions such as

acquisitions, serials control, cataloging, circulation and the public

access catalog. When exploring the history of library automation, it

is possible to return to past centuries when visionaries well before

the computer age created devices to assist with their book lending

systems. Even as far back as 1588, the invention of the French 'Book

Wheel' allowed scholars to rotate between books by stepping on a pedal

that turned a book table. Another interesting example was the 'Book

Indicator', developed by Albert Cotgreave in 1863. It housed miniature

books to represent books in the library's collection. The miniature

books were part of a design that made it possible to determine if a

book was in, out or overdue. These and many more examples of early

ingenuity in library systems exist, however, this paper will focus on

the more recent computer automation beginning in the early twentieth


The Beginnings of Library Automation: 1930-1960

It could be said that library automation development began in the

1930's when punch card equipment was implemented for use in library

circulation and acquisitions. During the 30's and early 40's progress

on computer systems was slow which is not surprising, given the

Depression and World War II. In 1945, Vannevar Bush envisioned an

automated system that would store information, including books,

personal records and articles. Bush(1945) wrote about a hypothetical

'memex' system which he described as a mechanical library that would

allow a user to view stored information from several different access

points and look at several items simultaneously. His ideas are well

known as the basis for hypertext and mputers for their operations. The

first appeared at MIT, in 1957, with the development of...