February 17, 2018

Wired on the Digital Library–in 1993

Over the weekend, I learned that the tech magazine Wired was 17 years old, so out of curiosity I checked out its first issue (dated March/April 1993) to see what tech trends were brewing back then. It turned out Wired had libraries on its mind.

In an article titled “Libraries Without Walls for Books Without Pages,” author John Browning wrote about what the digitization of library books could make possible:

“The world’s great libraries share a great vision: Books once hoarded in subterranean stacks will be scanned into computers and made available to anyone, anywhere, almost instantly, over high-speed networks. A researcher in San Francisco might, without leaving the desk, reach into the database of the British Library to grab a copy of the Lindisfarne Gospels, while another researcher in London rummages through the collections of the Library of Congress trying to find various Federalist Papers. Instead of fortresses of knowledge, there will be an ocean of information.”

In a discussion of “electronic card catalogs,” OCLC was mentioned, which has experienced massive growth in the ensuing 17 years: “Today the OCLC…enables more than 14,000 libraries [72,000 in 2010], spread over 46 countries [now 171], to share a database of about 26 million entries [now more than 1.6 billion].”

The article touched on cost concerns (“[T]he libraries do not want to be stuck with loss-making electronic services that taxpayers are reluctant to support”) and potential copyright questions. It also addressed then-hypothetical issues surrounding e-lending and print-on-demand that will be familiar to today’s librarians.

Overall, a fascinating read, and worth a look.

David Rapp About David Rapp

David Rapp (drapp@mediasourceinc.com) was formerly Associate Editor, LJ.