Making Book 6: Current Technologies in the Library

One interesting aspect of writing most anything is dissonance between what you set out to write—and what a reader thought you should be writing.

In one way, that happened with MARC for Library Use, but at the editorial level: One publisher’s acquisitions editor thought I should be writing about how to catalog with MARC tags. I don’t remember running into that level of dissonance with reviewers, though.

This book—full title Current Technologies in the Library: An Informal Overview—was where I ran into full-scale dissonance. As I remember, at least one reviewer (and maybe more) was really unhappy with the book because they thought it would be about leading-edge or cutting-edge or future technologies. They were particularly unhappy that the first chapter was “The Printed Page.”

But this book wasn’t futurism; it wasn’t cutting-edge; it was designed to help people think about and understand the technologies that their libraries currently used and some of the history behind some of them.

To quote from the introduction:

This book provides some background for many areas of current technology. It won’t make you an expert in any area, but will introduce you to some of the terminology, some of the basic concepts, and some specific ways in which the technology may affect libraries now or in the near future. It will also offer suggestions for further reading, should you wish to delve more deeply into a particular field.

The book was about tools, techniques and media, rather than systems, solutions and messages. I suggested four categories, of which the book covered portions of the second and third:

  1. Invisible and underlying technology—e.g., the electrical transmission system, heating and cooling, etc.
  2. Media and carriers—methods of storing and transmitting information.
  3. Tools and techniques (but only a few of those)
  4. Systems, e.g. library automation systems.

I tried to cover technologies that were still reasonably current in 1988—”either emerging with the likelihood of success, active or mature.”

Part 1 is Publishing Media—beginning with The Printed Page and running through Software for Lending, with a final chapter on Preservation.

Part 2 is Computers and Communications, with chapters on computers, input and display, printers, etc.

I included thumbnail histories and tables in some chapters, doing enough research to be reasonably sure of what I was saying—and I admit that I come back to the book at times to use these resources. I discussed interesting historical aspects of specific media and technologies, some of the advantages and problems, and in some cases specific library applications. (E.g., in the microform chapter—which begins “Microform is the Rodney Dangerfield of information media: it doesn’t get any respect”—I included “Closed Systems,” which most younger librarians may never have seen. Best examples: Newspaper Index and Magazine Index in ye olden days, big boxes with screens and locked-in computer-output microfilm (COM).)

Each chapter ended with a brief bibliography—items for further reading. The book included a fairly extensive glossary.

I should note that my wife specifically encouraged this project—and, unusually, went through the manuscript making lots of suggestions to improve the text. I believe it’s one of the best written books I’ve ever done, thanks in part to her critical eye.

The 324-page 6″ x 9″ book was published by G.K. Hall in paperback and hardcover (with a paper sleeve, the first of my hardcover books to use a sleeve rather than casewrap) in 1988. I believe it was useful; it sold reasonably well, although it didn’t set the world on fire. I cannot imagine doing a newer version of it!

Crawford, Walt. Current Technologies in the Library: An Informal Overview. Professional Librarian Series. Boston: G.K. Hall, 1988. ISBN 0-8161-1886-8. ISBN 0-8161-1888-4 (pbk.)

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