Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Thing 9: Blog about Technology

I think it is amazing how technology has escalated in such a short time. My first job dealing with computers was in 1970, when I was contract help for a community college's registrations. Students would first line up at a desk where a clerk with a keypunch machine would input the student's information onto a Hollerith card. This was called the "header card". They would go to another station where another clerk would input the card and check it for errors.

Next, cards matching the courses they registered for would be pulled from slots not unlike mail slots. They were stacked under the header card with other cards...I forget what but they probably had to do with lab fees or activity fees or something. I don't remember the rest of the process exactly, but the student's stack of cards would go into the master stack. When the stack was the correct height, I'd run it over to the computer center...a HUGE facility that used to be a department store...and put it into some sort of sorting or checking machine that was the size of a chest freezer. From there, it would eventually work its way into the mainframe and the student would be registered.

The thing that amuses me now is that the huge computer that filled a floor of a once department store had less power than the handheld PocketPC I now carry as a super cell phone.

Another thing that amazes me is reflecting back on my first library job. I worked in the library of a major urban newspaper as an Editorial Researcher. When I started in 1988, there was very little that we could search online. Our main tool was VuText, with which we could search local newspapers for free, but occasionally we needed to search Nexis/Lexis or Dialog when we needed information from other states, other countries, or specialized databases. We needed to use advanced Boolean language and sometimes we had to use an old fashioned modem where we would put the telephone receiver into a coupler. The databases cost up to $600 an hour to search, so we had to construct our search query in advance and have it approved by a supervisor.

My job was amazing and exciting. Many times we were gathering information on deadline and compiling it for reporters and editors. I won several awards for deadline research.

One day everything changed. The search system in VuText became easier to use and was mounted on all reporter and editor terminals. They rarely needed the help of a news librarian to get the information they sought. My free time was filled with database editing, a tedious task at best. More on that in a future blog post for the "Thing" about tagging. I was in library school at that time and the Broward County Libraries Division was growing rapidly. I waited until I was vested at the newspaper, applied to BCL as a Librarian I, got an amazing job at South Regional Library, and never looked back.

Right about that time, the SEFLIN Free-Net was established and it was our first glimpse at FREE internet for anyone. Because of my 5-1/2 years of database searching experience, I was certified as BCL's first Certified SEFLIN Free-Net trainer. I had the best time teaching the public how to look things up using the Lynx Browser and how to use Pine e-mail.

Before long, Mosaic arrived on the scene and then Netscape and then Internet Explorer and things moved so quickly that it was hard to keep up! I joined the team that did the initial FirstSearch training for BCL. Looking back, it was a very cumbersome way to search, and we were also teaching people how to use the mouse and how to right and left click and use their address bar. Just think, today anyone can just type a few words into Google and there is a good chance that they will find just enough to satisfy them...or an overload to sate them!

It amazes me that today, anyone, anywhere with an Internet connection, can easily find the world at their fingertips faster and for free. I feel very fortunate to live in these times and to appreciate how far we've come.

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