Those of us with gray hair are fond of reminiscing about the cost of our first computers or how much memory we thought was impossibly more than we could ever use. I recall during my first months at OCLC that the Office of Research acquired its first 1 gigabyte disk pack… an expensive device about the size of a small refrigerator. Lots of cameras have more now, and it would be a rare automobile that does not eclipse the computing resources of the space shuttle. Now-quaint marvels such as these afford benchmarks that measure our progress along the digital byways.
It is harder to identify with data standards such as the MARC record in the same way, especially in an age of global indexing and microformats (there may be a few of us who can remember their first 245 field, but these don’t have the same oomph in the retelling as, say, a 5 megabyte hard drive or IBM software on a cassette tape).
The recent passing of Henriette Avram is an occasion for reflection on the importance of structured data to our community. Henriette, as architect of one of the world’s most important data standards, led a transformation of the profession of librarianship that will outlast most of us. A large part of every dollar I've earned in two decades comes from the industry she helped to spawn.
Jim Gray, a Turing award winner and noted researcher for
Microsoft, recently told me (on the day before Henriette’s death, as it turns
out) his slides on the history of libraries in the digital age number four:
they start with Alexander and the
Thank you, Henriette.
Image: Park Avenue in New York City on a beautiful day in April, 2006
Post Script: Walt Crawford, my-soon-to-be-more-closely-related colleague, caught me out in a goof, which I fixed, and if you didn't find it, tough. Check the Internet Archive. I'm not a real librarian... I admit it. But I'm married to one! She's not a cataloger either. (thanks, Walt!)