My very first professional writing gig was with Computers in Libraries. A patient and wonderful editor named Kathy Dempsey took a chance on an opinionated upstart who had just barely worked in libraries, having recently come from the dark side (that is from a vendor, not as some might think, from California or D.C., the two domiciles that preceded North Carolina).
I told her I had an idea for a new column and that I was calling it “First Principles,” the notion being that there is nothing new under the sun, and that approaching technology from the starting point of the library science’s first principles would create better services. I have a vivid memory of standing on my back porch trying to explain this idea on the phone to a more than patient Kathy. The polite silence and occasion hem-and-haw on the other end of the phone made me think I had blown my chances of ever seeing my name in print–I was sure I had lost the job before I had typed my first word. Thankfully, my somewhat obtuse notion for a column, with Kathy’s help, turned into a pretty nice run as “Coming Full Circle.”
So here I am, glutton for punishment, returning to first principles again. The last thing I want to do in my new job with OCLC is to give the impression that I have too much time on my hands, but I will admit to having spent some time a couple of weeks ago with the papers of Fred Kilgour. Wow. Here’s what his report, co-authored with Ralph Parker, in 1965 said about the purpose of what would become OCLC two years later:
- Fast, complete bibliographic information retrieval
- On-line acquisition of machine-readable catalogue records from the Library of Congress
- Machine searching of machine-readable indexes such as those produced by MEDLARS and Chemical Abstracts
- Supplying bibliographic information for acquisition procedures
- Provision of central, real-time computer services for processing serials and circulation records
By 1983, the list had been modified and simplified:
- Shared cataloging and online union catalog
- Interlibrary lending
- Serials Control
- Public service including online local catalogs
- Circulation control
So here I am thinking that maybe I can bring some new contribution to the OCLC network, only to realize that I am trying to help deliver on Fred Kilgour’s vision from over 40 years ago.
First Principles indeed.