Posted by Mister JTA on March 30th, 2009 | 2 comments
Now with semi-random emboldening, to clarify what’s important in amongst all these words…
Well, since I’ve not yet had any frantic e-mails or letters or ‘phone calls of retraction, I guess now is as reasonable a time as any to leak some breaking news out into the public domain:
UWA Aberystwyth would like to offer me a place on the Library and Information Studies course as a Masters student, starting on the 28th of September, 2009. Plus, on the basis of my having started as an undergraduate around the 28th of September 2003, and having graduated from UWA three years later, they’d like to give me 10% off my tuition fees, which is very nice of them!
All things considered, this is a Good Thing, since it means I’ll get not only a professional qualification that (as I understand it) will allow me to get membership of CILIP – dead handy, that is – but also a spiffy new degree, which will not only make me look like a well-rounded, clever sort of person, but which should also net me a little more cash, long-term.
Not only that, but in the event that I actually finish and get the thing, I’ll be one of a comparatively small number of people who hold not only a degree from UWA, but also a degree from AU. Yes, I think that is a really interesting fact. I’ll wheel it out at parties in the event people look like they’re getting bored of hearing about the development of MARC formatting*.
Jen is currently in town, which is awesome. Brief trip to pub yesterday, which included entertaining reminiscences about Apocalypse Wow! and other ghosts. Since I’m about to be returning to studenthood [terrifying thought, except I'll be able to stop paying tax and that], I find this heartening – I think Jen is the first person I met during my Fresher’s Week that I’m still in any kind of contact with outside of Facecoke, and that dun’t really count as contact. It was good, because the thought of going back to University as a student type was making me feel properly old, and while talking about t’Old Days didn’t exactly stop me feeling old, it at least made me more cheerful about the whole thing.
Plus, y’know, Jen’s awesome, so it’s nice to have her back in town :-)
Good news all round, pretty much!
You really don’t have to read this bit if you don’t want to. I can’t think why you’d not want to, but if you really don’t, you can shove off now.
*this is, in fact, really interesting. See, back in the 1960s electronic data storage was really expensive and any computerised library records had to be stored in fixed-length fields, which not only limited search capabilities, but also caused costly wastage when you had an author with a four-character surname being stored in a fixed-length ten-character field. So, on the one hand, you had some fields that, for certain items, weren’t long enough, but couldn’t be extended, and on the other hand, you had some that were too long, but couldn’t be shortened.
Sometimes this would happen within one record, and it really crippled the potential value of the emerging computer as an alternative method of record management (the standard at the time, of course, being the traditional 3×5 inch catalogue card, which also had limited capacity and couldn’t be relied upon to get regular updates unless someone remembered to check all the cross-references from one card to another – which was time consuming even for small collections.
The problem they had was that there wasn’t any way to vary the length of a data field, because you had to tell the computer that the Author Surname field started at character #20, and ended at character #30 – it was the only way the machine knew what order the data lived in, and nobody could think of a way round that (of course, the majority of librarians had little understanding of computers, and the computer engineers rarely thought of libraries as being a market for computers, since the established members of each profession looked on the other as the very anathema of what they stood for – a view which remains surprisingly common to this day, in spite of all the advances made in the past twenty-odd years).
Now about this time the Library of Congress had appointed a new committee which was supposed to be looking at their surplus of 3×5 cards. (Especially in the US, these cards were still pretty cutting edge – as late as 1900 most American libraries still had their catalogues printed in book form only, which made them amazingly hard to update – by comparison, the index cards were a dream come true, except that they took up too much room.
The committee, therefore, was looking at two solutions to the card storage problem: 1) Rent a big warehouse to store some of the cards, or 2) Rent a floor in a big warehouse to store some of the cards**. The LC was feeling pretty good about itself, around this time, because of course it wasn’t long since the 1956 Committee on Catalogue Code Revision had presented its findings (themselves a revision of the fairly shoddy 1946 rules), so they weren’t in the market to change the way cataloguing was done. However, it was at about this time that — Oi! You little bugger, I saw you open that new tab! Hey! O, now you come back here! Honestly, I was right in the middle of my story!***
*sigh* Bye, then…
**Some things change very, very slowly, it appears…
[All humour aside, that is honestly a really interesting story. I’d be happy to finish it sometime. And kudos to Keith Trickey for clueing me in on it.