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The Evolving Concept of “Digital Libraries”
Information Access Seminar
Speakers: Michael Buckland, Ray Larson, and Clifford Lynch

Today three distinguished information gurus had a seminar which was unexpectedly exciting for me personally. Being an outsider has its advantages as well as disadvantages. The disadvantage is that the outsider has little respect beyond social convention, but also there is the advantage of being able to make observations and raise questions which the professionals might be embarrassed to bring up even though they are relevant.
The seminar was mostly about the history of digitization from the 1940s through the 1990s and how libraries tried to adapt to the changing, and rapidly improving abilities of the various digital media. What was being done in those years was by current standards very very slow and very very expensive but by the standards of the time it seemed very very fast and not so very expensive for the quality of information that could be controlled. In the picture below Dr. Buckland is showing us what was at that time called a Walnut which contained 30 postage stamp sized (in thickness too) memory cards. As it turned out these little things were so expensive that even the military couldn’t afford them and very few were ever made.

Professor Buckland shows us an early memory card.

Professor Buckland shows us an early memory card.

He brought the book Giant Brains or Machines That Think by Edmund C. Berkeley published in 1949, and read several interesting quotes from it which were prophetic about the current computer world. I now have this book on order and will read it soon.

Note that the memory card portrayed squirting information into the dummy’s head looks rather like the one which Dr. Buckland showed us. I don’t know, perhaps it is an early woven memory core which held about 1 K of memory. My current pocket key chain memory is 2 Gigs or 2 million times more, and it was a gift to all attendees at last month’s lecture by SanDisk founder Sanjay Mehrotra. Part of what excited my still not dead vanity was that Machines Who Think: A Personal Inquiry into the History and Prospects of Artificial Intelligence is by Pamela McCorduck, who has another book The Fifth Generation – Artificial Intelligence and Japan’s Computer Challenge To the World by Edward A. Feigenbaum and Pamela McCorduck, which begins and ends with quotes from my book, Tao and War, Charles Scamahorn.

Pamala McCorduck, Machines Who Think.

Pamala McCorduck, Machines Who Think.