The thwarted future of fiche and film

It’s crazy how much the predictions made about microfilm in the 1970s resemble the buzz about e-readers and e-books today…but I don’t know of any portable microfilm readers that ever really hit the consumer market with a splash the way the Kindle/Nook/etc. have. I guess they just weren’t “cuddly” enough.

woman uses microfilm printer

“Instead of circulating microfiche like books, tomorrow’s libraries will duplicate them for you to take away and read on your own portable microfilm reader!”
-Joseph Becker in The First Book of Information Science. United States Atomic Energy Commission Office of Information Services, 1973. p. 80

lady with retro hair using a microfilm reader

“A portable microfilm reader is certain to promote increased use of all forms of microfilm in schools and in the home. Designers believe it should be lightweight, about the size of a book, possess a good internal light source, have sharp focusing, and above all be a little ‘cuddly’ so that people will feel as comfortable reading microfilm as they do curled up in a chair reading a book.”
– Becker (1973) p. 76.

tv spits out fax with the news
"men who plan beyond tomorrow" - they like whisky and they have TVs that spit out faxes of the latest news. From an ad in Life magazine, Nov. 20 1944

more “Men who plan beyond tomorrow” on the Technologizer

1948 microfilm reader
from Popular Mechanics, Sept. 1948

“At some point, we might actually see everyone on the tube reading his paper with a pocket microfiche reader.” – “A New Kettle of Fiche”. The New Scientist, Feb. 24, 1972

women using micro readers
from the NYPL


The thrill of human/computer/library history

Libraries of the Future by Licklider book cover imageI’ve been reading a little about the history of the human computer interaction (HCI) field, and as always I love reading the prophetic visions of researchers from the early days. It’s really cool that Stanford has made available video clips from Douglas Engelbart’s 1968 public demonstration which featured the online system, NLS, the mouse, hypertext, object addressing, dynamic file linking, and “shared-screen collaboration involving two persons at different sites communicating over a network with audio and video interface.” No wonder the Human Computer Interaction Handbook refers to it as “sensational”. It’s always surprising how quickly some (if not many) people in the mid-twentieth century realized networked information storage and retrieval systems would be the “libraries of the future“.

This Vannevar Bush quote kinda gives me chills no matter how many times I’ve read it. 1945, people!

Wholly new forms of encyclopedias will appear, ready made with a mesh of associative trails running through them, ready to be dropped into the memex and there amplified. The lawyer has at his touch the associated opinions and decisions of his whole experience, and of the experience of friends and authorities. The patent attorney has on call the millions of issued patents, with familiar trails to every point of his client’s interest. The physician, puzzled by a patient’s reactions, strikes the trail established in studying an earlier similar case, and runs rapidly through analogous case histories, with side references to the classics for the pertinent anatomy and histology. The chemist, struggling with the synthesis of an organic compound, has all the chemical literature before him in his laboratory, with trails following the analogies of compounds, and side trails to their physical and chemical behavior.

The historian, with a vast chronological account of a people, parallels it with a skip trail which stops only on the salient items, and can follow at any time contemporary trails which lead him all over civilization at a particular epoch. There is a new profession of trail blazers, those who find delight in the task of establishing useful trails through the enormous mass of the common record.

Vannevar Bush. “As We May Think.” The Atlantic Monthly, July 1945.

college student using a clunky computer for word processing in the 80s mayberock on computerz

Back to the future

abstract for a paper from 1978:

In the future, books will be available, although a number of texts will be published in a loose-leaf format; still pictures can be organised on microfiche; sound recordings should be available on microfiche; moving pictures can be satisfactorily retained as videocassettes. But other developments will affect librarians as well. The video-disc may soon be available commercially, increasingly users will wish to record broadcast items, all libraries will have teletext, holography will become more popular, and the ubiquitous silicon chip may well provide the answer to the mechanical complications which arise because audio and video equipment contains moving parts. A British non-book national listing should soon emerge, and domestic computers will proliferate in the next decade or so. Part-time study and distance education will place more pressure on libraries.

(Paper presented at the International and Comparative Librarianship Group Seminar 4: Into the future, chaired by Sir Harry T. Hookway.)

Fothergill, R. & Hookway, H. T. (1978). New media and the libraries [Abstract]. Proceedings from The Library Association Study School and National Conference. London, Library Association. Retrieved from LISA: Library and Information Science Abstracts.