Technology is a funny thing. The word itself is evocative of computers, digitization, even sci fi and space travel and infinite possibility. But that is hardly the end all be all of technology; it isn’t even the entirety of technology that we are dealing with today.
Technology in the library can be scary for some; there is an immediate fear that all those wonderful books, full of knowledge and touched by generations before us will disappear like so much smoke, leaving the walls bare and the ridding the air of that sweet vanilla smell of old books. Don’t forget, however, that the book itself is a form of technology.
Brief pause for the video that I’m convinced is shown at the beginning of everyone’s sojourn through library school:
The word technology, when broken down simply, comes out to mean the science or study of craft or art. Easy enough for everyone to agree that a book is a physical object and the result of a craft; it was certainly a technological advance over the scroll or sheaves of loose paper. There is no question of the art of the book: one need only look at an illuminated manuscript to see art; one can even look at the books of the 1890s and 1900s to see the art put into the end paper and title pages.
These days, technology in the library is generally taken to mean removing the books and going digital, to compliment the digital catalog that can be accessed both in the building and from the wider web. Being on paper at the college, it was with great interest that I read Karen Coyle’s article “The Evolution of the Catalog.” After all, we have the ability to bypass the growing pains that were felt in the 1980s and 1990s when the majority of Libraryland was going digital, simply by virtue of the fact that we don’t have to install the very first OPAC and work our way up. We can apply what was learned throughout the implementation process and in the past 35 years of digitization.
What I found most interesting, though not necessarily surprising, is that developments in cataloging and inextricably caught up in the technology in use. The system of cataloging a string was tied to the technology of paper and the card catalog; the MARC format was born out of a need to easily provide card catalog cards and was pressed into service as the foundation for OPAC records.
Now that we are firmly in the world of the digital database, the format can chance again. During library school, the focus was on Functional Requirements for Bibliographic Records (FRBR), which is relational as opposed to listing information in a string. I’ll admit, I did not keep up with the development of FRBR once I was out of the library school, simply because of the limited number of hours in the day. Now I’m catching up. Those interested in the development of FRBR can check out OCLC’s write up as well as the documents on FRBR from IFLA.