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
1960 - 1970
1970 - 1980
1980 - 1990
1990 - 2000
2000 - 2005
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Historical Perspectives:
technology moments, acts of Congress
& other significant breakthroughs affecting U.S. Libraries.

Copyflo: First semi-automatic xerographic printer; makes continuous copies on ordinary paper.


In 1955 The Telecomputing Corp. of Burbank California began testing a new punch tape method for recording circualtion transactions, but was deemed to be too costly at the time to implement.

Source: Library Trends, October, 1956.

Termatrex Index, pre-computer, performs Boolean searching.
Termatrex is a punch card based system


Brodart introduced it's circualtion system "Brodac" at the 1956 ALA conference. Brodac used heat sensitive paper, similar to film to recod circulation transactions.

Source: Library Trends, October 1956

In 1956 Congress approved the Library Services Act that would later become the Library Services and Technology Act. The LSA helped to establish federal funding for libraries.

LSCA stimulated cooperative projects, centralized bibliographic control and particularly the use of computer based systems. Many states initally used LSCA funds to support their initial installation of OCLC.

Source: American Library History 1876-1976 by Howard Winger..Library Trends, Vol 25 #1.

In 1958, Luhn published an article entitled A Business Intelligence System and presented an automated method of distributing current scientific information to scientists and engineers. Known as SDI, the technique involved automatic abstracting of the literature, comparing the abstract with the user's profile, and notifying the subscriber with the bibliographic information when a match occurred. SDI systems are still used today.


1958: The Library of Congress formed the Committee on Mechanization and Information Retrieval to examine whether or not automation was inevitable or even desirable, and should the library pursue it further.

Source: A History of Information Science 1945-1985 by Dorothy Lilley

FLIP -- Film Library Instantaneous Presentation is introduced.

Source: (1958, Fall) Library Resources and Technical Services, 2(4), p.278-79.

1959 - 1960
In 1959 ALA began the Library Technology Project (LTP) with the goal of reviewing, testing, and standardizing library technology.

In 1960 they funded $9,000 to the Battelle Memorial Institute in Columbus Ohio to to design a universal card holding device that could be attached to a typewriter to simplify the typing of catalog cards.

In December of 1960, they also funded the development of a labelling machine which uses a small iron and protective tape. It is very similar to the one we use today at SIBL, but instead of a typewriter, we have it attached to a PC and a tractor printer....The iron however does look like one from 1960, and I wouldn't be suprised if it wasn't that old!

Source: Library Technology Project (ALA) Annual Report 1959/60

The Librarian of 1960 gazes into a crystal ball ...


"Just as Microcards contain a great deal of information in condensed form which can be read by the eye through the use of a suitable magnifier, so I believe it will be possible to develop a suitable magnifier to enable the fingers to read a kind of MicroBraille.

"This would enable the reference librarian to keep quite a library in his pocket, and while the customer was asking a question he could be feeling for the answer. (He might, for example, keep the catalog of his library in one pocket, FAMILIAR QUOTATIONS in another, and the DICTIONARY OF AMERICAN BIOGRAPHY in a third. He would rapidly get the reputation for being quite a knowledgeable person.)

"It is easy to extend the principle. Female reference librarians could keep a MicroBraille library tucked in their hair; then, while seeming to be patting their locks or thoughtfully scratching their heads they would really be finding the answers.

"Estimated cost: $100,000."

Source: (1960, Fall). Library Resources and Technical Services, 4 (4), p.289.

"In 1961 the Association of Research Libraries and the ALA adopted a joint resolution allowing libraries to make one copy of an article or part of a book, whether copyrighted or not, under the spirit of the 'fair use' provision of copyright law."

Source: (1963, Spring). Library Resources and Technical Services, 7 (2), p.164.

" April 22-October 17: The New York World's Fair offers public viewing of online bibliographic retrieval at Library/USA.This is the first time the general public sees bibliographic information and interacts remotely with librarians through a computer using standard telephone lines. This is the first online system to allow for simultaneous users for one database using search software. Joe Becker is the main producer and reporter of this event."

MARC I as it was then know, began distribution via magnetic [computer] tape. Approximately 50,000 Eng. language records were sent to the 16 participating libraries between 11/66-6/68 - the initial trial period for the program.

Source: Tedd, L.A. (1979). An Introduction to Computer-based Library Systems. Philadelphia: Heyden.

The OCLC (originally the Ohio College Library Center) was founded in 1967.

Source: Thompson, J. (1982). The End of Libraries, p. 44.

The SUNY network, consisting of 9 participating institutions, began in the Fall of 1968.

[Presumably the "traditonal library materials" is in contrast to systems originating from the general vicinity of the military-industrial complex.]

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

An illustration of the potential of satellite for information exchange took place at the October 1972 meeting of the American Society for Information Science, which featured a direct link via IntelsatIV satellite to Darmstadt, West Germany. The hookup permitted attendees to query a databank maintained by a European Space Research Organization, an inter-European agency similar to NASA. Cost was $8,000 for a 4 day link.

Source: (1973-74). Advanced Technology Libraries, 2(1).

The Invention of high-reduction microforms was first mentioned in the February 1972 issue of Advanced Technology Libraries. The system can be used to store library information of two kinds: Literature and descriptive information about literature(eg,catalog records).

Source: Becker, & Hayes. (1972, February). Advance Techonology Libraries. 1(2).

Light-pen systems with barcodes were first used routinely for circulation systems in Great Britain beginning about 1972, and by the following year there were at least eight such systems in operation. Book number and borrower was recorded by pen device, and then recorded on magnetic tape.

Source: Salmon, S.R.(1975) Allen Kent(Ed.) Library Automation Systems. New York: Marcel Dekker, p. 211.

According to the book, Library Automation the State of the Art II, many cooperative processing using networks were introduced in the 1970"s among then was DATRAN,which planned a digital service across 35 cities, with the first segment to be implemented in 1973-1974.

Source: Martin,S.K., & Butler,B. (Eds.). (1975) Library Automation the State of the Art. Chicago:American Library Association.

“The Research Libraries Group, Inc. (RLG) was established in 1974 by Harvard, Yale, and Columbia Universities and the New York Public Library to create a computer-based bibliographic processing system that would improve efficiency in library operations, link RLG programs, and afford library users searching for bibliographic information an increased and more flexible set of access points than was possible in conventional card catalogs.”

Source: Hildreth, C. (1987). Library Automation in North America: A Reassessment of the Impact of New Technologies on Networking. p. 50.

10/11/95 - Senate passes Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA), updating and replacing the Library Services and Construction Act (LSCA).

Source: Flagg, G. (1995, December). Senate passes measure to update, replace LSCA. American Libraries, 26(11), p. 1089.


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© Created by the students of GSLIS 747 - Queens College CUNY
Last updated: 15 December 2004
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