The newsprint has turned yellow and brittle, the ink has faded, and in the photos people have disco era haircuts and sit in front of terminals that connect to an IBM main frame computer. “Library of Congress Card Catalog Giving Way to Computer Terminals” announces the headline of the article, which appeared in the September 6, 1981 edition of the New York Times.
Earlier in 1981, LC has closed its card catalog. “With that important step,” reports columnist Francis X. Clines, “the library added a dozen cathode ray tube keyboards to six already at work, thus capping a 15-year task of switching over to electronic cataloguing. Eventually there will be more than 1000 keyboard consoles in place for the public…”
This very charming article heralding the arrival of the OPAC, also mentions a study of more ambitious electronic processes. Processes that could actually retrieve by screen actual book contents. Optical disk processes were to be studied, initially with newspapers, to see if ” a method is feasible” to be used for “storing and retrieving subject matter day by day for one-stop instantaneous reference.”
Thirty years later, we know that it is feasible electronically store, retrieve and deliver to a screen contents of books. And we also know how to launch large scale public library projects. The development private philanthropy to fund public libraries, federal, state, regional and local support of libraries and networks, the emergence of library consortia and meta data standardization, suggest the elements needed to build the DPLA.