As I write the Computers in Libraries Conference is going on. Fortunately, I didn't have to go. My library already has computers and we all know how to use them, so the novelty has worn off. Attending a whole conference to talk about them seems a bit much. (And for that person I talked to at the conference, I was just kidding. I'm not the Annoyed Librarian.)
Some librarians are there talking about exciting hot topics like blogs and wikis. I know because I read a blog post by someone at a preconference there talking about blogs and wikis. This is pretty difficult stuff, after all, and well worth yet more time talking about it. Take my own case, for example. A couple of years ago I got frustrated with the mess the ALA Council sometimes is, so I searched Google for "blog," found Blogger, typed a few keystrokes, and the AL was born. With some good librarian guidance from the bloggers that be, I could have saved myself a lot of time. For example, I could have gone straight to Blogger instead of through Google, thus saving myself 0.12 seconds. Otherwise, it ain't that hard. Even I have a blog, and according to some of my critics, in addition to being a warmongering fascist, I'm also a luddite and a technophobe.
However, knowing that someone was inevitably talking about various twopointopian tools got me thinking about all the hot new trends that have come and gone over the years, some more with a whimper than a bang. A few years ago, it seemed like you couldn't go to ALA without someone dragging you into a session on virtual reference. Before that, I remember a lot of sessions on information literacy. And it just goes back and back. Regardless of the topic, there always seem to be a handful of librarians who have their 15 minutes of fame by explaining simple topics in complex language to groups of librarians distinguished by their vast ignorance, their lack of curiosity, and their complete inability to find out any information for themselves.
I've been a librarian for a long time, but I know plenty of you have been around longer than me or have read up on library history more than I have. What are some of the past trends that were going to remake our library world? In the forties and fifties, I bet librarians were all talking about how exciting microfilm was. I read a blog post recently that mentioned an article about the initial challenges of telephone reference. I bet those were some exciting conference conversations! A friend doing some library related research told me about some ALA discussions in the seventies about the impact of cable television on libraries, including some arguing that libraries should start producing cable TV content, because, after all, this was the revolutionary communication tool of the future. I haven't seen the documents, but I bet the cabletvtopians among the librarians sound a lot like the twopointopians today.
In the past, were there librarians who were so awed by hot new trends that they discussed ways to integrate them into the library? In the late fifties, did some children's librarians suggest holding hula hoop parties in the library, you know, for the kids? Were there impassioned discussions about the 8-track tape? What are we going to do about this electronic calculator thing? Answering machines: reference tools of the future? Pac Man: what library uses does it have? Human cloning: can we use this to solve the "librarian shortage" problem?
All the hot new things, whatever were we going to do with them. How could libraries ever survive without hula hoop parties or cable TV production? I wonder what some of these hot new things were, that are now merely the stuff of history. What did the librarians talk about at conferences in times past that now seem quaint? I would actually do some research to answer this question, but that would require work. Instead, I leave it to my kind readers. What old new things can you remember that were once going to revolutionize our libraries, or that librarians once fretted over?