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"So long as....the machines are not permitted to dictate"


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THE FIRST PERSON I REMEMBER TELLING ME service.We've achieved better user access, better control of
that the computer would revolutionize libraries died more the world's information, better reference and inventory
than 20 years ago. He was the great library historian and tools, better consortia to help libraries work together, and
futuristJesse Hauk Shera. In the arrogance of my early much more.
forties,just emerging from the Sixties and a midlife funk, I Yet, still hidden in some of that technological promise, is
dismissed his prediction as the visionary enthusiasm of an the oversell of the huckster, the excessive enthusiasm of the
aging academic who had begun to believe all the hyperbole booster, and the hyperbole that nearly always accompanies
others said about him. As was so often the case with him, change as radical as that which we now face. Opportunists
Shera was absolutely right. It is too bad he didn't live to see abound in the promotion and installation of new
how far we have taken the prediction that he worked so technology.
hard to validate. When you assess new technological promises-from
Shera was not a techie and never bought all the hype that RFID to Google's digitization of libraries full of books,
surrounded the library field's entry into a digital world. from the iPod to online open access journals-it is crucial
A research scholar and scientist, he saw the potential for to keep Shera's advice in mind. Don't be bowled over by
librarianship in information technology. He tried to build the noise of those introducing you to the next wave of
information retrieval systems yet at the same time was a technological change, and remember to look at the new
sober and sharp critic of the faddists, commercial hucksters, devices and their output for what Shera called, in that same
and techie boosters who would and often did take us down LJ article, "the philosophical synthesis of the library
expensive and obscure roads on our way to the future. profession." If we can examine our future through Shera's
In theJanuary 1, 1976 special issue of LJ, compiled to rigorous yet optimistic eye, we will surely find, as he did,
celebrate our first century, Shera assessed progress up to that great opportunity and a great future for librarianship-
time: "The advent of the computer and the adaptation of especially if we heed his warning and we don't allow the
automation to library procedures are compelling librarians technology to define the profession.
to analyze, more thoroughly than they have done in the
past. what they are doing and to ask if it should be done....
All this can be most beneficial to librarianship so long as
machines and the demands of machines are not permitted
to dictate the character of and the limitations upon our
professional services" (Jesse H. Shera, "Failure and Success:
Assessing a Century," LJ 1/1/1976, p. 281-287).
That advice from Shera has taken on more relevance than
I expected when I edited the article so many years ago. I've John N.Berry III,Editor-in-Chief
observed more than the overseling of the first systems, jberry@reedbusiness.com
many of which were just a baby step ahead of the manual
methods they replaced. I've watched while expected savings, I
usually in personnel, simply got lost in the need for human
support and the cost of system operations. I've seen great
successes, too: the birth and growth of OCLC, of a hundred
consortia and networks, and, of course, the development of
thousands of online information sources and services.
As amply demonstrated in the netConnect supplement you
received with this issue, this technological progress points to
the wondrous opportunity for ever-improving library

8 I LEBRAPYJOURNAL I APRIL 15,2005 (SEE LJ ARCHIVES, NEWS, AND MORE AT WWW.LIBRARYJOURNAL.COM I


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TITLE: Check Change with Shera


SOURCE: Libr J 130 no7 Ap 15 2005
WN: 0510501872001

Copyright (2002) Reed Business Information, a division of Reed


Elsevier, Inc. All rights reserved. To contact the publisher:
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Copyright 1982-2005 The H.W. Wilson Company. All rights reserved.