Vol. IX, no. 1..........................................WINDOWS............................................Nov. 1996

A View Through the Transom

by Hugh Macdonald

When this writer arrived at TCU in 1972 to take a position of assistant reference librarian, there were perhaps fewer than eight telephones in the whole of the Mary Couts Burnett Library, and the Reference Department's eight or so staff members has access to only one. Outgoing long distance calls were rare, difficult to arrange, and required substantial justification of purpose. Hence, Reference's communication with the world outside the Library depended largely upon the mails and a rackety Telex machine kept over in the interlibrary loan alcove.

How very different the situation is today for that information resource center we still call the Reference Department. Connectivity with the world is now on an order of magnitude undreamt of in 1972—although by then men had already stepped onto the surface of the Moon. Indeed, the moonflight itself provides an example of unimagined connectivity. Somewhere I recall reading that in all prior science fiction writings concerning man's first landing on the Moon, not a single author had imagined that the momentous event would be televised back to the Earth.

Recently I experienced some shock when reading that one member of a tragically marooned climbing party on Mount Everest spoke to his wife in the United States on his cellular phone, even as he was freezing to death. Why had I not imagined this possibility before?

Nowadays libraries and librarians are awash in the possibilities of reaching data and information through electronic means—and they are undeniably the better for it, despite the considerable stress resulting from learning the best navigational techniques (which can change daily) or from having to evaluate the quality of whatever is discovered. We like to think, however, that stimulation to our imaginations is worth that stress, although there ARE days when I would gladly return to the single telephone in the Department.


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