Introduction to Automation for Librarians (4th edition)

Steve Morgan (Deputy Head, Learning Resources Centre, University of Glamorgan)

Library Review

ISSN: 0024-2535

Article publication date: 1 July 2000




Morgan, S. (2000), "Introduction to Automation for Librarians (4th edition)", Library Review, Vol. 49 No. 5, pp. 252-260.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Now in its fourth edition, this classic text by the prolific William Saffady concentrates on the “technology” of automation and explicitly steers clear of the human resource, cultural or sociological implications of automated systems. The eight chapters survey those aspects of information technology that are most significant for library operations. The book’s structure is very much one of two halves.

The first four chapters deal with the fundamental aspects of computing and related technologies, a grasp of which would enable the library automation novice to engage with data processing staff, equipment suppliers and others. The subsequent four chapters focus on library automation concepts and the automation of specific library functions.

This structure is very helpful in its logical movement from the general to the specific, particularly for those new to the subject or those who border on the technophobic.

Chapters 1 and 2 cover computer hardware and software in 80 pages. So, coverage of the former includes the various parts of the computer, input and output peripherals, auxiliary storage peripherals and media. This is followed by descriptions of different types of system and application software. Chapter 3 examines the ways in which the hardware and software interact to produce, manage and distribute data.

We are therefore introduced to the differences between real‐time and batch processing, interactive computing and the use of modems, as well as text storage and retrieval systems and distributed computing. Rounding off Part 1 is a chapter entitled “Automated office systems and related technologies”, which represents an interesting and increasingly important mix of processes with which many librarians nowadays will be familiar. Included here are dictation systems, word processing, electronic document imaging, micrographics, photocopying, electronic mail, fax machines, voice mail, digital television, and videoconferencing.

“Computers and descriptive cataloging” begins Part 2. This chapter outlines the evolution of MARC records and MARC‐derivative cataloguing products such as microfiche cataloguing tools, CD‐ROM systems. This is followed by descriptions of various bibliographic utilities such as OCLC. This is really a chapter for cataloguing aficionados and, particularly, for those well versed in “acronymia”. Chapter 6 covers integrated library systems or, as Saffady defines them, “computer‐based information systems that use a single bibliographic database and a set of interrelated application programs to automate multiple library applications.”

The author discusses the various functions of these systems, including online catalogues, retrospective conversion, circulation control and, finally, acquisitions and serials management. The penultimate chapter, “Automated reference service”, consists of a summary of bibliographic databases in broad subject areas, followed by a similar summary of non‐bibliographic databases. The second half of the chapter is taken up with a discussion of online search concepts – it goes into searching on DIALOG in some detail – together with various subject‐based and multidisciplinary services. This chapter sits rather oddly with the rest of the content and seems to have strayed from another text entitled Subject‐oriented computer‐based reference services. The final excellent chapter discusses the digital library – the concept, the creation, the history, the plethora of projects – and a range of issues and concerns surrounding it.

Anyone wanting an up‐to‐date descriptive account of the development of library automation in jargon‐free language need look no further. An annotated list of further reading for those requiring more depth would have been the icing on the cake.

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