Library Networking

I was appointed librarian to a new Sixth Form Centre. It took Sixth Form students (aged 16-18) from two of the borough’s secondary schools. The contract was for two years, while the schools in question expanded to accomodate their growing Sixth forms.

The library boasted six networked RM Nimbus computers. My computing experience was limited to a modest home computer and an ageing standalone BBC B.

It was a learning curve.

Our six PCs and a printer ran on Windows for Workgroups – an early networking system for groups of computers (we had no internet in schools back then). After the first year, a further six PCs were added.

My technical support was a teacher based elsewhere in one of the feeder schools .

One of the first things I learned was that the computers needed protection from students’ modifications. My training was mostly reactive – a question of checking the computers regularly, finding out what their users had been up to, undoing the changes, and finding where to apply passwords to the relevant activities.

Luckily, their knowledge back then wasn’t much more advanced than mine. We were all learning about networks. I just had to keep up with the brightest of them and discover that one’s latest modification before the others did.

The computer behind the issue counter wasn’t part of the library network. Another BBC, this one boasted an issue system as well as the library catalogue. Both were MS DOS programs; Windows Library systems were a development of the future. My word processor was another separate computer, attached to its own printer.

The teachers’ photocopier lived in a glass-fronted office behind my issue desk, so I got to know most of the staff. I still exchange Christmas cards with the office manager, who would send up one of her staff to relieve me for my lunch break. Other than that half-hour, I was on my own. If I needed a comfort break, I would ask one of the teachers who came to use the photocopier if they would keep an eye on the library while I dashed up the corridor.

The library committee consisted of the headmistress, two senior teachers and the office manager. I think they were meant to advise me and approve any orders for stock (purchased on the recommendation of teachers). After an initial meeting during the first term, the Library Committee never convened again in the two years I was there.

As a “one man band”, I learned the value of all those public library departments I had visited in my pre-library school year. If I classified a new book in a less-than-obvious location, the chances were I wouldn’t find it when someone asked for it (usually the teacher who’d recommended it). This was especially likely if I had been slow to update the catalogue or if I misremembered the exact title.

Classification was a particular problem for books that were not easily pigeonholed, or dealt with complex topics. Computing in particular was a relatively new subject about which I knew nothing beyond the programming in Basic (computer language) that came with my ZX Spectrum.

Sinclair Spectrum ZX

Even in Basic, my programming knowledge extended no further than to display on the screen a cross-stitch-style dog that wagged its tail. This rapidly expanding subject of computing was being squeezed into the Dewey Decimal code for general knowledge at 000.

At the end of my two year contract the Centre closed. Both feeder schools offered me the position of librarian, but I didn’t have to choose between them since I had, by then, been successfully interviewed for a post in a Further Education college in an East London Borough.

I still have fond memories of that Spectrum. Which early electronics did you bond with?

What fledgling IT systems have you known that are hardly recognisable in their descendents of today?

Next: Libraries in UK Further Education

Copyright © Cathy Cde 2021

9 thoughts on “Library Networking

  1. I started in 1982 trying out computers. In my job as an investigator with the State, they would many times come to me to fix a problem with the early bulky IBM compatible computers, instead of waiting days for an IT person from home office.

    I’ve loved playing with computers since then.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. We got our first home computer in 1986, an AT&T with a color monitor (which was a big deal back then), a 20 meg hard drive, and two floppy disk drives. Underwhelming by today’s standards, but it was magical, and I fell in love with technology…

    I’m sure it was a cat and mouse game for you trying to stay ahead of those students… 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  3. When I was an apprentice we had a tour of the Baker Perkins factory in Peterborough, it was where the prison is now. The computer room was a huge air-conditioned room with glass walls women were typing and punched cards were produced to be fed into this huge behemoth of a machine. My mobile phone probably has more capacity than that machine had.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I remember being at tech one evening when I was studying for my Full Technological Certificate. We were there from 9am to 9pm, two men came out of the refectory after the tea break, one said to the other “it’s got 64kb of ram.”
        “Well you wouldn’t need any more than that would you?” his mate replied.

        Liked by 1 person

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