Library Technology Timeline

From Clay Tablets, to Scriptoriums, to OPACs:
A chronology of the first use of a technology in a library

1945 - 1950
1950 - 1960
1970 - 1980
1980 - 1990
1990 - 2000
2000 - 2005
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1960 - 1970
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“The first time in the U.S. full-text documents were stored electronically and accessible on-line occurred in 1960 at the Health Law Library Center of the University of Pittsburgh where statutes of the State of Pennsylvania and bodies of legal text were put into machine-readable form. This was so successful a venture that it was later converted to a commercial enterprise (the Aspen Systems Corporation), and adopted by the Department of Defense as Project LITE (Legal Information Through Electronics).”

Source: Thompson, J. (1982). The End of Libraries, p. 61.

The Medical Research Library of Brooklyn claims to have been among the first libraries to use the Xerox 914 copier (circa 1959) for the purpose of making copies of articles for inter-library loan use in 1962.


A report on the "results of the first year's work at the University of California at San Diego on a project for using general purpose computers in the maintenance of library records of serial holdings. The project is experimental but is aimed at producing a practical system which will eventually replace a manual serials record ..."

"Other institutions are known to be considering computer use, but, as far as is known, no (other) university or large research library has experimented with such use."

Source: (Winter, 1963). Library Resources and Technical Services, 7(1), p.71.

“…the very beginnings of machine-readable databases [was] the pioneering service developed by the National Library of Medicine in the United States called MEDLARS (Medical Literature Analysis and Retrieval System).” Implemented in 1964, according to Thompson, MEDLARS introduction signaled “information technology’s” beginning.”

Furthermore, MEDLARS was “the first device used in a large production environment for photocomposition under computer control. To photocompose “Index Medicus” it was first necessary to put the indexing records into machine-readable form. Having done so, not only was it possible to generate printed indexes, but possible also to offer to conduct retrospective computerized searches and to provide a selective dissemination of information (SDI) service."

Source: Thompson, J. (1982). The End of Libraries, p. 32.

"The US Navy Electronics Library introduced photocopied catalog cards reproduced on a Xerox 914 copier. The system was able to 'reproduce six sets of cards simultaneously directly from the corresponding array of six master, or main-entry, cards.'"

This new process produced duplicate cards at a rate of approximately 200 per hour, as compared to about 50 per hour, typed.

Source: (Spring, 1964). Library Resources and Technical Services, 8(2), p.196.

MEDLARS first used GRACE -- Graphic Arts Composing Equipment (known commercially as the Photon 900) -- to print its August, 1965 edition of "Index Medicus." The GRACE process was designed to "provide a greater set of characters, 226 characters in the set, at 330 characters per second exposed to negative film."

Source: (Winter, 1965). Library Resources and Technical Services, 9(1), p.14.

The system united purchasing, distribution and inventory control. "Several portions of an integrated data processing system designed by the University of Illinois Library, Chicago, and the General Electric Co. ... have now been devloped in detail and are in the process of being tested under a further grant from the National Science Foundation."

Source: (Winter, 1965). Library Resources and Technical Services, 9(1), pp. 66-71.

The Joint University Libraries in Nashville began using a form of automated acqusitions in February 1965. Tabulating equipment was initially used with an IBM 526 Printing Summary Punch (an accounting machine I believe). These procedures were converted so that they might be used with an IBM 1401 (with a 4K memory).

A purchase order packet was created which provided:
~ slips for the cataloging dept. for shelf records
~ a slip for binding routines
~ a card for the public catalog

Before the purchase order was printed, the data was run through an editing program to prevent duplication and other errors.

Source: Salmon, S. R. (1969). Library Automation: A State of the Art Review. Chicago: American Library Association.

In December 1966, the Illinois State Library began accumulating circulation data on a daily basis which was then processed in the evening, using an IBM 1031. Initially, this program did not allow queries of books checked out; this became available in 1969.

Source: Hammer, D.P. (1976). The Information Age: Its Development, Its Impact. Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow Press.

In March of 1968, Bell Laboratories Library, using an IBM 1050, was the first library able to track materials on loan in real time.

Source: Hammer, D.P. (1976). The Information Age: Its Development, Its Impact. Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow Press.

The San Francisco Public Library was the first library to implement a entirely computer-controlled periodicals system. A shortage of staff was cited directly as motivation to expand upon previously existing technology.

A 3 volume book-format catalog was published, listing roughly 6,000 S.F.P.L. holdings.

The system was developed by a woman in the technical services department in co-operation with the city EDP [Electronic Data Processing?] center.

Source: (1969). LARC Reports, 2(3), p. 76.

"In 1969, Pennsylvania State University Libraries (University Park, Pennsylvania) established a Department of Systems Development with the charge of computerizing library processes. After more than a decade of work, the Library Information Access System (LIAS) was operational as an integrated local system, for bibliographic, circulation control, and an online catalog."

Source: Hildreth, C. R. (1987). Library Automation in North America: A Reassessment of the Impact of New Technologies on Networking. p. 132.

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Last updated: 15 December 2004
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