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Open Access Publications from the University of California

From acting locally to thinking globally: A brief history of library automation

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Over a period of thirty years, goals for library automation have shifted from an emphasis on local concerns to an emphasis on global concerns. These goals evolved through three incremental phases--efficiency of internal operations, access to local resources, and access to resources outside the library--before reaching the present stage of addressing interoperability among systems and services. The challenge facing libraries today is how to act locally--to implement systems that ensure internal efficiencies and high levels of service to the community--while thinking globally, assuring that local systems are able to exchange data with other systems located around the world. Each of these phases in the history of American and British library automation is discussed. American and British experiences are contrasted with recent developments in central and eastern Europe, raising issues of how to support expansion into regions with different traditions of library service and practices, different technical standards, different political, economic, and cultural circumstances, and a lower installed base of information technology. Technology and policy issues involved in library automation and its role in the Global Information Infrastructure are summarized.

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