Christopher C. Brown, Professor, Reference Technology Integration Librarian
We can think of the history of Penrose Library in terms of three historic phases of library-wide technology.
Phase I – Card Catalog Days
When Penrose Library opened in 1972 the most noticeable feature on the main level would have been the expansive card catalog furniture. Access to books was available via the “dictionary catalog.”
Users could explore the Penrose collection by author, title, subject, or series, but that was all. Since keyword searching didn’t exist, all searches were “left anchored” phrase searching, meaning that the filing and lookup element was the left-most part of the term. Authors names had to be inverted, of course, just like in a phone book (another relic of the past!). For title searching users had to omit initial articles (a, an, the).
Phase II – The Online Catalog
What a revolution the online catalog was! In the late 1980s Penrose went live with the CARL online catalog. The technology shift here was the fact that library catalogers didn’t have to sit at typewritters hammering out numerous catalog cards. Instead, libraries could download records from a shared (union) cataloging source, such as the Online Computer Library Center (OCLC).
The transformational technology for public users was the ability to search library catalog records by keyword. No longer was access only possible by left-anchored phrase searching, the online environment enabled searching keywords across any searchable field, including author, title, subjects, and notes.
Phase III – Full Discovery
As revolutionary as keyword searching was, it paled in significance when compared with Web search engines, full text digitization projects, and library discovery tools, such as Summon (which Penrose Library uses). Think of it this way: a very high percentange of the books Penrose Library owns are full-text searchable through one or more of the existing book scanning projects (Google Books, HathiTrust, and the Internet Archive).
Whereas in Phase II library catalog records are searchable – in Figure 2 above fewer than 20 words are searchable for a 290 page book – every word is searchable in the full text digital projects mentioned above. Even if copyright restrictions prohibit viewing or downloading most entire works, nevertheless, with every word searchable in the not-so-distant future, deep discovery can take place in a manner never before imagined.
Penrose Library was initially built at the end Phase I, and when the Academic Commons reopens early in 2013 the emphasis on emerging technologies will continue to push University of Denver students into Phase III discovery of primary and secondary sources.