Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Old New Hot Things

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?

76 comments:

Anonymous said...

...hula hoop parties in the library, you know, for the kids?

I think I love you more than ever, AL.

Anonymous said...

I do remember the days of Dialog searching. I think that my college library had to pay for each search and each search result so only the librarians were allowed to use it.

Anonymous said...

We have no way of knowing what some of the past trends were because until 2.0 came along and introduced blogs and wikis, there was no way to communicate about these sorts of things.

Sandy said...

I am still waiting for the advent of the paperless society that Lancaster and White were announcing some 30+ years ago!

Anonymous said...

Remember - and this dates me - Selective Dissemination of Information (SDI) - there's a DUH for librarians...

Anonymous said...

When is the luddites in libraries conference?

The last one was in Akron Ohio in 2005 and we talked about filing catalog cards and library hand.

Anonymous said...

I just came from a conference where someone presented on how to embed Meebo into your library website to use it for chat reference, but his library hadn't done it yet and it was only on his personal page. His library was still "looking into the technology".

*shakes head*

Anonymous said...

"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."

This sounds amazingly like those librarians who are celebrating "podcasts" and library videos on YouTube.

Anonymous said...

Papryus = Old and Busted

Parchment = New Hotness!

Anonymous said...

Imagine the frenzy when Dewey introduced his decimals to libraryland!

Anonymous said...

Speaking of Dialog, I remember having a whole class on it that consisted of learning how to search really fast because it cost so much for a search. I remember thinking that if this was the future of reference on the Internet I wanted nothing to do with it. Some richer libraries (not ours) employed whole teams of Dialog searchers. Thank God for Microsoft Windows!!

Anonymous said...

...hula hoop parties in the library, you know, for the kids?

My Kids would love it if we would hold those now!! My daughter just bought a new hula hoop.

Anonymous said...

Computers in Library?

Wow.

That is so 2.0.

Dances With Books said...

Discussions of 8 tracks? Boy, that has to be the line of the day. This week you can't pretty much look at any 2pointopian blog without getting yet another CIL post ("we are here, you are not, nya nya"). And you are right, the more I read them, the more redundant they seem. Do they really need a whole conference for that, specially when a lot of it is, as you point out, stuff we know already?

Then again, as you also point out, there are "groups of librarians distinguished by their vast ignorance, their lack of curiosity, and their complete inability to find out any information for themselves." I don't know who are worse in giving our profession a bad name: the ignoramuses or the 2pointopians. Talk about being caught in a crossfire.

Anonymous said...

This one is a keeper!! And yes, my kids would love a hula hoop contest at their library.

But I remember how COM catalogs were going to save the world .... whole books written on that one, many conference sessions, etc. Fortunately the OPAC (that now sucks) was invented, yielding to even more whole books, conference sessions ..... and a conference, you know, the grandmother of the one all the bloggers are at this week ...

Anonymous said...

We have been frightened for years of the little old lady in tennis shoes, realizing our public image was too close to hers to be comfortable. In an effort to disprove any association with her, we have embraced every new advance in technology–the computer, charging machines, teletype, AV. We have done every new thing possible but have neglected the book and the individual.

So sayeth Margaret Edwards in 1969. (It's from Fair Garden and the Swarm of Beasts)

And they're still teaching Dialog in library school.

soren faust said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
kudzuhomecomingqueen said...

And they're still teaching Dialog in library school

Oh yes, right down the road from me in fact. Sorry, Dialog is like so 1980s stuff, 'ya know? Gag me with a spoon.

Anonymous said...

20 or so years ago, in those great days when an IBM PC cost about $5,500, and the only filter was on the furnace ... when we bought our first public Internet computer, we discovered it had a magic mouse.

One of the first customers to try our new service was a little old lady in tennis shoes and an impish smile.

Several employees gathered to watch her try the new technology, which turned out to be threepointopian.

When nothing initially emerged on the screen, one employee said "Shake the Mouse." (That mouse had performance problems after having had its balls stolen, remember that phenomenon?)

Well ... up popped a picture of three bizarrely clad people engaged in some form of sexual behavior. The employee quickly covered the screen with her crossed arms while the lady tried tugging her away, saying "I want to see, I want to see."

I had already decided that my collection development policy which included buying high demand risque bestsellers was a form of pandering, but that mouse had to go.

Ah, thanks, AL, did you enjoy the good old days of regional catalogs on microfiche?

Signed the Crook Librarian

Julie George said...

How about the CD Rom and the juke boxes we purchased to run them in?

skeptical thomas said...

Yesterday's novelty is today's obvious and tomorrow's old, it's been and will always be like that.
The very essence of libraries is comprised of 3 components: librarians, patrons (aka customers, users) and the interface between them. It's funny how librarians are so much preoccupied with themselves and the interface (which technology is part of), and care so very little about users, and I mean that in a non-2.0 way. How about shifting the focus on library users for a change, who they are, what they want, how satisfied they are with the services provided and so on. Too much to ask? Dare me, and spare me of the 2.0 non-sense, please.

DearReader said...

And they're still teaching Dialog in library school.

I think that's a really good thing - it makes people think about how to structure searches efficiently. As a way to get information, it's not the best - but as a way to drive home some points about theory, I think it's sound. I graduated library school within the last decade, and I was really glad that I got to work with Dialog.

Anonymous said...

AL,

Have you watched The Hudsucker Proxy recently?

(Whatever happened to Charles Durning, anyway?)

Anonymous said...

I agree with the AL 1000% on this one, but I don't really understand what dialog has to do with it. I could be wrong, but I've been under the impression that dialog WAS an important change in libraries, in that it was an important step on the way to the online databases that we all use now.

Also, for the record, I had to learn to use dialog when I was in library school a few years ago, and I'm really glad that I did because it helped me understand key ideas about using non-dialog databases.

RV said...

"because until 2.0 came along and introduced blogs and wikis, there was no way to communicate about these sorts of things."

Bwahahahahahahahahahaha!

And I think the issue with Dialog is, for me at least, I spent an entire semester on learning it, and NEVER ONCE used it in any of my jobs. And nope, just learning the "concepts" of using it did not make me a better librarian or internet searcher.
Total waste of time, not to mention about $2300.

Anonymous said...

I don't know, but maybe these "computers" are going to catch on before too long. It could happen!

---Kurt

Anonymous said...

I don't know if it was supposed to set the library world on it's head or not, but I remember our library was very proud of it's "randtreiver." They installed it in the early 70's I would stand outside its large glass window with all of the exciting machinery behind it and patiently wait for something to happen. And wait. And wait. And sigh and go back to my book. Any of you know what the thing was supposed to do besides eat money?

On another note - I miss card catalogs.

Anonymous said...

Information literacy has stuck around, at least in the academic library world. The jargon may be different, but bibliographic instruction seems like a perennial must for college students. Trust me, they need it.

Joy Kennedy said...

Taking this a little more seriously, back at the dawn of time (the late 60s-early 70's) there was a lot talk about community education and a lot of interest in creating files of local community information--where can I take free guitar lessons, where can I apply for foodstamps, etc. Of course this was before microcomputers were common so often these were part of the catalog (what a mess!) or kept in card files at the Reference Desk--uh, the new Community Information Center.
There was a push for schools and other educational institutions (like libraries) to be open after hours and offer adult education classes on everything. The center for this was Flint, Michigan. This was, of course, in the days when Flint had jobs, the parks were beautiful, the schools well kept up and automobile money was flowing. (A lot of us have seen the documentary about what has happened to Flint once the Big Auto companies deserted it.)

A lot of trends of big talk about the "future of libraries" and the Next Great Thing have been going on for decades and even, believe it or not, AL, pre-date computers! Yes there WAS life before TV and before Gates was a gleam in his parents eye.

Back in the 30's it was library as self-learning center. Immigrants and the uneducated could read the great literature of the world and become literate and educated.

And, of course, there was our mission to "preserve knowledge". For you young folks out there, there actually was a way to reproduce material before Xerox. It wasn't pretty and it was smelly and ... less said about mimeo and other primitive methods of giving pieces of paper to others, typing your dissertation (remember carbon paper and little strips of white to typeover mistakes)!

Yes, library trends have come and gone. Some of us even remember when you had to search printed indexes book by book by hand! and write down the citations on notecards! Believe me the first time I saw a computer spew out overdue notices I almost wept! Glorious day! Computers are GREAT! May I never type a set of catalog cards, add the headings and file them "above the rod" again. Hurrah for technology!

Anonymous said...

Blah, blah, blah. Are you all Amish?

Here's an "old new" hot topic: gentrified, fossil librarians retiring so that a new generation can take over. But then who would be left to pine for the good ole days and complain about all the changes?

soren faust said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
I'm Kat! said...

How about shifting the focus on library users for a change, who they are, what they want, how satisfied they are with the services provided and so on. Too much to ask? Dare me, and spare me of the 2.0 non-sense, please.


But that is too easy - we already know what they want - everything, yesterday, but only enough to get a yes or know answer - in otherwords, www.google.com!!!!!!

Otherwise, get ready for sessions on what the "Geneaology" crave is all about...and how libraries can help aka complicate the process.

Look through the reference section - how much of that material is even necessary anymore???

Anonymous said...

Boy, my feet sure sweat in these shoes.

AL said...

Yes, Amishphobe, you've got it! Not accepting the gibberish that every hot new thing is absolutely necessary for libraries to survive is the same thing as complaining about all change. If only I could have seen the light earlier! Unfortunately, I don't have electricity so my lights don't work.

Anonymous said...

Remember back in, oh, 1982 when Baltimore County was the latest to propose the end of civilization by buying popular materials, and various library pundits opined that romances and - gasp - mysteries would be the death of the library? Oh yes. Guess I'll have to blame our 20% annual increases in circulation on all of that trash.

soren faust said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

[small voice] I use Dialog at least once a week, and Classic at that. The user pay suits our library due to the vast array of subjects I am called on to search and the Classic interface gives me the ability to tailor searches and reproduce an actual search strategy for clients. I like it, and I'm under 40! [/small voice]

Anonymous said...

Not accepting the gibberish that every hot new thing is absolutely necessary for libraries to survive is the same thing as complaining about all change.

And see, I thought the motto of this blog was, "Whatever it is, I'm against it."

Soren Faust, I'll meet you out back in the phone shanty.

-Amishphobe

AL said...

The motto of this blog changes at my whim. Recently, I've been in a Marxist mood, hence--Whatever it is, I'm against it.

Brent said...

Oh noes! AL is a Trotskyite

AL said...

Oh Brent. The youth of today. That's Groucho Marx.

Brent said...

Ohhh, I approve of Groucho Marxism.

That reminds me, I need to find good silent films to watch at work to kill time. I prefer not to have "Birth of the Nation." Little too controversial!

Anonymous said...

What about the pony express or telegraph. Were there policys on who could use the telegraph and how long they could use it. Were there filters on the telegraph machines?

Anonymous said...

I agree in large part, but...am I the only one who is bothered by a fallacy in comparing the internet with telephones and cable?

Cable TV doesn't provide specific (or general, or even "good enough") answers to your questions you may have at any given point in time. Nor does an 8-track, a laserdisc, or any other new medium to come along in the past few decades...with the exception of search engines on the Internet.

I see a big difference here. And yes, librarians' pending demise is indeed at stake.

Not that I'm not annoyed as much as the AL.

In fact, I have a mind to join a club and beat you over the head with it.

m.d.

Crumbly said...

Viewdata was it. Our system piggybacked on the bulletin facility of an ICL main-frame so that nearly every branch had access to the central catalogue, a database of companies in the county, local club and society contact details, halls etc to hire, an email service and whatever else we felt like putting on it. We had Prestel and limited access to Dialog, Reuters etc for information on the wider world and looked longingly at France and its universal Minitel system.

We controlled the lightnening and loved it.

Crumbly said...

Thought you'd like to know of the thing that will make all of 2.0 obsolete.

Make way for the Grid

http://tinyurl.com/5je5f6

Anonymous said...

Pacman in Libraries?

no tonly fun,
but a good FUNdraising tool!

Anonymous said...

Here's an "old new" hot topic: gentrified, fossil librarians retiring so that a new generation can take over.

I hope this was a sarcastic rant. If you were up on your "microtrends", you'd learn that "fossil librarians" (or professionals nearing retirement age) aren't going to retire any time soon, so you better learn how to work with them.

I just came from a conference where someone presented on how to embed Meebo into your library website to use it for chat reference, but his library hadn't done it yet and it was only on his personal page.

Were we at the same conference? I recently attended one (geared at academic librarians!) where the presenter told us about the existence of RSS feeds and mentioned how to use them in a library setting. No XML training, etc. Sorry, most academic librarians already know about RSS.

It wasn't pretty and it was smelly and ... less said about mimeo...

I loved the smell of mimeo!

Anonymous said...

I use Dialog DataStar every single working day, and am pushed to use Classic more often by management. But I am in corporate libraryland...

I had to teach college freshmen to use print indexes in 1999, and they had assignments to complete using print resources. Yeah, that went over really well. I felt kinda bad for the students, but couldn't say anything with their teacher glowering at the back of the class.

Anonymous said...

If you thought a whole conference on writing your thoughts out and sharing them with the world was a waste of time there is now a science. Check out the story on msn

http://cosmiclog.msnbc.msn.com/archive/2008/04/09/873232.aspx

Anonymous said...

Where is my jet pack? I want to fly to work.

Library Elf said...

A few years ago, I took a cataloging class and presented a report on FRBR (Functional Requirements for Bibliographic Records). The one librarina who knew about it was a cataloger and said it was a hot topic (at the time) but have not heard anything about it since.

soren faust said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

When I started my first "librarian" job in 92 it was just before the internet was about to change everything. What really cracked me up was that they had four cheepie polaroid cameras that students could check out. They just had to buy thier own film. And in the staff handbook the paperwork on the free cameras for libraries program from polaroid from 1980 was lovingly filed away for reference. The person who showed me the cameras admitted that they never got used much but they would have to contact polaroid if we were to get rid of them. We got rid of them after she retired.

Anonymous said...

I know this is going to date me but when I was in library school in the 1960's the big "new trend" was miniaturization and microdots. It was believed that books could be compressed greatly and you could have a whole library in a drawer. At ALA Conferences between 1965 and 1967 the emphasis was on giving books away and not having people come to a building at all. Brooklyn had the three B's program -- a library in every bar, barber shop and beauty parlor. Venice CA had its motorcycle librarian who toured the town giving out items etc. Actually, it was a fun period.

exlibriscat said...

Soren Faust: your vision of the future is most splendid and possibly the best thing I've read all day.

Anonymous said...

Things have been going down hill since that rabble rouser Gutenberg came up with movable type.

Prior to that, the monks had a real handle on information and patrons/clients/users/flock/serfs had just what they needed to live.

Plus, there weren't a bunch of uppity womyn in the libraries; just calm, quiet, efficient male monks.

Aaaaahhhh, the good old days.

Taupey, the Bush Kangaroo said...

I thought old new hot things were called "cougars."

Soren, you are right but beware that the Almighty does not smite thee with great vengeance and furious anger; witness the Library of Alexandria.

Nemoleon said...

Brent, you could try watching "Intolerance," (same director). From reading the comments here I'd say you might be about the 2nd person to see it ...

Brent said...

Griffith and "Intolerance" goes together. I'm a curious to check it out now. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

From hula hoops to hip hop.

Sounds like a presentation that my library directory is probably going to ask for.

**sigh**

Anonymous said...

Directory?

Why?

I type with hooves instead of fingers.

DIRECTOR

Sorry.

Kevin Musgrove said...

We had an OPAC and I still had to download the Catalogue to fiche once every six months to justify our having fiche readers.

I "accidentally" broke the programming eight years ago otherwise I'd still be doing it.

I did use to like doing Dialog searches, though.

Can any of you folks tell me when teaspoons became the technology of choice for chief librarians?

Anonymous said...

@ 9:02 AM

Probably, which is why I'm posting as anonymous lol.

The.Effing.Librarian said...

cabletvtopians

oooh, oooh, I found an article once from the 1980s? or 70s? about a city (Chicago?) that purchased a TV production thingy that allowed them to broadcast programming to other places that had that same equipment... now I won't be able to find it, but it was cutting edge stuff that prolly cost $$$$$ and went into storage six months after they got it.

Anonymous said...

You know, at our library, we never go with any trends.

Cataloging? Why, if you can't root around through that pile of books and find what you need, then the hell with you.

Computers? You want electronics, go to Best Buy.

Reference? The pile of books is over there.

Gaming? Does this look like Toys-r-Us, junior?

Popular books, magazines, etc? Go to Borders and stop being a cheapskate. We are a research institute.

I would have more, but I have to go take a break. Next week is spring vacation around here so I better start getting in my breaks before I have to go home for a week.

Kristen said...

"I know this is going to date me but when I was in library school in the 1960's the big "new trend" was miniaturization and microdots."

Microdots would explain a lot of the policy manuals that I've read.

Anonymous said...

hey man, stay away from the brown microdots.

you get messed up with them and you start hearing the AACR2 manual begin to speak to you.

get too far in and you will be tasting the decimals for dew(ey)

at the last stage, you will on all fours barking at the OPAC.

then you will turn to a twotopian

soren faust said...

at the last stage, you will on all fours barking at the OPAC.

Peace, pot, microdot, oh and Thorazine, are the only things that got me through Library School. It's like that anti-LSD ad where the guy hold up a "groovy" drawing of himself that he did on acid.

I can say the same thing about the MLS. "Last time I dropped acid, I got this degree. Groovy, isn't it?"

Brought to you by the Council To Stop Humans Being Humans.

Anonymous said...

I had forgotten about those Polaroid cameras. The company must have sent them out everywhere. Too bad Apple didn't do that with iPods.

Can someone explain the point of Playaways? Because people won't pay $25 for an MP3 player? Because we'll need extra copies of last year's best-seller to load up the landfill?

Anonymous said...

I know it's probably getting old to make fun of SL, but ALA is apparently celebrating National Library Week with Tai Chi in SL. What does that have to do with libraries, and what is the point of exercising virtually? Thought it might amuse you.

It's on Tuesday: http://community.livejournal.com/librarians/71224.html

YouMakeMeTiredAlready said...

Oh, lordy. Three words for twopointopians and for AL herself: *Get Over Yourselves.*

Of course tools have their day and new ones come along. But that's just what they are--tools, and the fact that they're eventually replaced by new ones doesn't mean the old ones were a useless fad.

We use all these tools to do the same thing librarians have always done--lead people to the information they need. Just use the ones you've got to do the job you do, and shut up about it already. No need to trash the profession, the degree, or colleagues who choose to use tools you don't use yourselves.

Kevin Musgrove said...

"at the last stage, you will on all fours barking at the OPAC"

Been there. Best fun ever.

Working in our place is like having a walk-on part in somebody else's acid flashback.

Anonymous said...

I tried to use cash just the other
day but the cashier would not take it without my PIN number!

;-)

Anonymous said...

This is among the lamest rants from Annoying Librarian I've seen. Say, whatever happened to this hot new Internet trend thing that was supposed to take over librarianship? THAT was dumb wasn't it? Good thing Annoying Librarian's way too smart & clever to use that trendy Internet thing.

Hindsight is a poor method of proclaiming one's prescience.

Anonymous said...

"Can someone explain the point of Playaways? Because people won't pay $25 for an MP3 player? Because we'll need extra copies of last year's best-seller to load up the landfill?"

Patrons of our library use playaways because the apparatus has a mechanism that allows the user to slow down or speed up the narration according to their comprehension level. It is also a fashion statement! ;^D