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portal: Libraries and the Academy 4.2 (2004) 303-304
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A History of Online Information Services, 1963-1976, Charles P. Bourne and Trudi Bellardo Hahn. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2003. 493 p. $45 (ISBN 0-262-02538-8)
This book provides a rich narrative history of online information services and systems from 1963 to 1976, a significant period in which early online information retrieval emerged. The major focus of the book is to provide a basic chronology of what happened, who did what, and when.
Charles P. Bourne is the former director of the Institute of Library Research at the University of California and former vice president of DIALOG Information Services. Trudi Bellardo Hahn is manager of library user education services and adjunct professor in the College of Information Studies, University of Maryland. The authors carefully apply qualitative research methods to their work on this chronology. Oral history techniques, including interviews and examination of documentation, are employed, as well as the authors' personal experiences. The interviewees are listed in the acknowledgments, and the interview data are verified through other sources. The interviews add personal impressions, interpretations, and undocumented anecdotes to the book. Documents that are examined include published literature, grant proposals, technical reports, theses and dissertations, and memos.
The book has four themes woven together: systems, service, funding, and pioneers. Each chapter's special topic is presented in rough chronological order. The introductory chapter is the best part of the book. It is well written, provides an excellent overview of online information service and system history, and discusses the related literature. Subsequent chapters, for the most part, cover specific major systems and developments during this time period—including early experimental work and prototypes, commercial systems like Lockheed DIALOG, SDC Orbit, and Mead Data Central, and systems designed for legal and medical research. These focused chapters provide clear descriptions of the systems, their characteristics, and the contributions they made to the development of online information retrieval. [End Page 303]
The research questions posed by the authors are meaningful and critical and are properly answered. The introduction and summary chapters give readers a big picture view of the systems, and together comprise a must-read for busy readers, while other chapters can be used as an encyclopedia to get detailed information about a particular system or development. Sidebar text boxes are used throughout to highlight milestones that help readers to understand the unique contributions of those early information systems. For example, "The Library/USA demonstration may have been the first online search system to demonstrate inverted file searching." (p. 50) However, some of the text boxes highlight more trivial matters—for example, "DIALOG was the first online search service to advertise in journal publications." (p. 282) These milestones or "firsts" are summarized also at the end of the book and are arranged by date.
This work can be read from cover to cover to gain a complete understanding of the early online information systems, or it can be used as a reference resource to look for description of a particular system. The large bibliography provides a rich resource for further reading.
I recommend this book for anyone who is interested in learning the history of online information systems and for library and information science collections.