Technology Brings Change to the Libraries


Berry Chamness

One of the first entries in the Library's original card catalog.

Some of you may remember that way back in 1990 (a generation in computer years!), the Library introduced Tripod, the online catalog for Bryn Mawr, Haverford and Swarthmore. Brand new DEC VT terminals were placed in numerous locations throughout Canaday, and patrons suddenly had online access to the entire catalog. Then in the summer of 1992, as a sign of the changing times and needs, the trusted card catalog, which had served us so well for so many decades, was dismantled and replaced by even more computer terminals. Well, times are changing again.

Over the coming months, the old reliable DEC VT terminals in Canaday and Collier will be replaced by Macintosh and PC microcomputers. (Carpenter Library, being brand new, already utilizes only microcomputers.) Why would we want to replace the DEC terminals while they are still working quite well?

There are several reasons for this, but the main reason for such a switch is the introduction and rapid development of the Internet--specifically, the World Wide Web. With a browser's graphical interface and the appearance of online resources, including electronic versions of many of our print journals and Lexis-Nexis access, patrons can search a Web version of the Tripod catalog and then click on Internet links in the catalog that will take them in seconds to actual texts, images, and sounds. They can scan such results for relevance to their needs, then click back to the Tripod catalog and continue searching for other materials, print or electronic. Of course, the familiar character-based catalog will still be available via the microcomputers, but users will be able to access anything on the Internet, whether they use Tripod as their starting point or not.

The rise of the Internet has also created opportunities for the Library staff. Since 1976, when Bryn Mawr College started cataloging its collections on OCLC, the database of catalog records to which many libraries worldwide subscribe, the staff has used computers specifically designed for and dedicated to accessing and using OCLC. This entailed a person's moving from one workstation to another, in order to complete each catalog record. Today, staff members are able to complete the cataloging process solely from computers on their desktops, as OCLC access and downloading capability are now in place over the Internet.

Additionally, we expect soon to create a technology/media laboratory in Canaday to which students can come for instruction, to use specialized software for their classes, write papers, use the Internet, and even read their e-mail.

All in all it has been and will be quite a year for technological change in the Library. Who was it that said change is the only constant? That statement may be truer now than anyone would have ever guessed.

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