My first professional job in 1973 was Head of the Circulation Department at the University of Kentucky main library. At that time research libraries were inwardly focused on traditional activities such as ordering, cataloging, and lending books and other materials. Materials were circulated using punched cards which were filed by hand in long wooden trays. Staff used a long metal needle to pull out those that were overdue. Overdue notices were typed and sent via U. S. or campus mail. Users searched the library's inventory by manually rifling through cards in the Author/Title or Subject card catalogs.
Change was in the air, however. In 1967, a group of libraries in Ohio set up a not-for-profit cooperative system called the Ohio College Library Center (OCLC) to merge their catalogs electronically. The goal was to streamline operations, control costs, and increase efficiency by making available electronic Library of Congress card catalog data along with cataloging data of member libraries for reuse by everyone in the system. In 1971, the Ohio University library was the first to use the new system to catalog a book. In 1978, the cooperative was expanded to allow libraries in other states to join.
The expansion of OCLC to other states and library types (e.g. public libraries) meant that librarians now had to:
- learn how to use the OCLC computer terminals;
- develop interlibrary policies and procedures for doing cooperative cataloging;
- market new library services to users to cover the cost of the required OCLC hardware.
The computer was making other inroads as well. The UK library reference department used Dialog, a system launched commercially in 1972, to search journal and newspaper articles. The acquisitions department ordered books using a computerized system called BATAB, developed in 1969 by the book distributor Baker and Taylor. Librarians used the system to see what books were available for sale, place an order, and print an invoice.
It was clear that library staff had to learn about computers. I was invited to take a two-week course in "report writing" — i.e. how to extract and format information from a computer database. My first project was to write a COBOL program that would extract information from the BATAB system and then print a report that could be submitted directly to the university financial system for payment. My second project was to create a report from circulation statistics that would give librarians an idea of which books were actually being used — and by whom. The statistics project complemented the work of the new bibliographic instruction department, which produced a series of research guides for students.
In 1976, I left UK and joined OCLC's office in Columbus, Ohio. Shortly thereafter, I wrote "Marketing Library Services: A Case Study in Providing Bibliographic Instruction in an Academic Library" in collaboration with the head of the UK bibliographic instruction department. By the time the article was published in a book called New Horizons for Academic Libraries in 1979, I had moved to Boston and was working at CLSI, another pioneer in computerized library systems.