The Tech - Online EditionMIT's oldest and largest
newspaper & the first
newspaper published
on the web
Boston Weather: 73.0°F | Overcast

Libraries' catalog needs automation

Column/Simson L. Garfinkel


When I was in eleventh grade, visiting MIT for the first time, I was horrified to learn that the Institute did not have a computerized card catalog. Computerized card catalogs allow the rapid selection and location of books on a variety of topics. They can slash the time required to find a book from hours to minutes.

I had used such systems at the University of Pennsylvania and Bryn Mawr College five years ago. Today, MIT does not have such a system.

Director of Libraries Jay K. Lucker outlined his plans for an automated, computerized circulation system for the MIT Libraries two years ago. Installation of the system commenced in the fall of 1984 at a cost of $600,000.

The system, produced by Geac Limited of Canada, has sat unused by students in the Hayden Library basement for over a year.

The computer can prohibit students with large overdue fines from borrowing books. It can even automatically print reminders to delinquent borrowers. Lucker said that there would be public access terminals so that students could query the computer system without the help of a librarian.

But the Geac system will not, nor is it intended to, replace the Libraries' card catalog. This is one of many problems with the overdue system.

The Geac system is only an automated circulation system. It does not, for example, contain [el-37p6]

an abstract of each book on file. The system cannot be easily networked with other computer systems on campus, such as Project Athena. The system does not allow inquiries over the telephone.

Lucker said that the system would record borrowing patterns in the MIT community. But keeping track of this information poses serious questions regarding individual privacy. An automated circulation system can be used to compile a list of every book that a particular student has borrowed. The MIT Committee on Privacy has failed to address such issues.

Two years ago, it seemed that while MIT would not have a state of the art computer system for its libraries, it would at least have a usable system.

So far no visible progress has been made.

It is upsetting that MIT, one of the foremost technical schools in the world, still has no online card catalog system. Other schools have had online card catalogs -- not mere circulation systems -- for years.

Other universities have designed and built their own systems, employing students to do the work. Perhaps Jay Lucker does not believe that MIT students are capable of designing and implementing such a system.

I suspect that the MBTA will be finished with Kendall Square before we see a computerized circulation system in the MIT Libraries.