Veteran library staffers recall days before computers

Sue Pinard (left) and Frances Montgomery have worked at the library for 40 years and have seen lots of changes during that time. (Chris Roussakis Photo)

Frances Montgomery and Sue Pinard have pretty much seen it all when it comes to the MacOdrum Library.

Given that the pair have both worked at the library for 40 years, that’s no surprise.

As the $27-million renovation wraps up, the pair took a trip down memory lane, recalling the days before computers and how the “digital revolution” has impacted the library’s business.

“The librarians used to talk about getting copy from other libraries and bringing it electronically,” recalls Pinard. “We didn’t have computers then (1974) and certainly, the idea of each person having her own computer was outlandish.

“It sounded like Star Trek – bringing in copy electronically from another library.”

Pinard, who has a Russian degree from Carleton went to work in the library right after graduation, remembers the days when everything we done manually and microfiche was considered cutting edge.

“At that time, when it came to cataloging, when a new book came in a Polaroid picture would be taken to identify the author, title, classification and the subject headings. And then the photograph would go with the book to the cataloguer and then they would catalogue the book, a card would be produced, filed in the card catalogue and labelled and head to the shelf.”

In 1978, the library was doing a “conversion” project for the serials because it was getting computers and the library had to convert all of its records, including catalogue cards, to a machine-readable format.

“We (the staff) did the serials and then the books – because we had far more books than serials – were sent off to be translated by convicts at a penitentiary. And they had fun with our records (catalogue cards),” chuckles Pinard, who works in cataloguing and reference in the Maps, Data and Government Information Centre (MADGIC).

“They changed things so it took us years to find them (the mistakes) and fix them … I am not sure if they changed call numbers on us but they certainly changed titles and notes.”

When the computers arrived, Pinard says they were “pitifully slow” and two people had to share one computer.

What’s kept her going for 40 yars?

“I am always learning something from every book I pick up, or map,” says Pinard.

In terms of the renovations, Pinard is thrilled with the transformation and feels that MacOdrum is now comparable to cutting-edge libraries she’s seen at U.S. colleges.

“It looks really good. It feels inviting and warm. I like that we have more space for students. The fourth and fifth floors are really nice. The new spaces are really great.”

For Frances Montgomery, who also works in MADGIC, the computer age opened the door to resources for teaching and research.

“It’s seems now surprisingly primitive, but we had one CD ROM terminal in MADGIC. At the time, it was considered quite progressive,” says Montgomery, who is also a Carleton grad with BA and MA degrees in history.

“Certainly outside forces pushed on. I can remember we had to get new computers when the governments went to PDFs because at the time we didn’t have anything that would open a PDF.”

“Before (computers), you would have had to have gone to the research collection (potentially in located in other cities) but now, because of digitization, you have access without leaving the city. It’s a complete revolution.”

In the early days of her career, Montgomery remembers fewer buildings on campus, and you could smoke in the library but not bring in food.

“There was a group of students who used to work on the fourth floor and they had a big pizza party up there,” says Montgomery. Once discovered, the group was escorted out of the library for breaking the rules.

“We had a streaker in 1974 – that was in vogue. He started on the top floor and ran down the main staircase and into the quad. We were certainly regarded as the hub on campus,” she says with a chuckle.

When it comes to the renovation, Montgomery agrees with Pinard, that the new spaces are a great addition.

“One of the great things about the renovation is that … there are now very pleasant places to sit and work; there are collaborative rooms, there are facilities for graduate students, and there’s a lot of equipment.

“The mission hasn’t changed but it’s been transformed by the digital revolution. Everything pales in comparison, in terms providing access to resources for teaching and research – that is the main thing.”

Like Pinard, she loves her job.

“It’s the challenge of solving people’s information problems and we never know what we’re going to be asked next. It’s continuous learning. I’ve been very fortunate to work always with like-minded colleagues and now I think we play an important role in trying to be a bridge between the digital and the non-digital resources.”

Some highlights about the renovated library:

– Total new space = 60,000 square feet; that figure includes 22,000 on the new 4th floor extension and 22,000 on the new 5th floor extension

– More study spaces including: three new data/media labs (gaming, digital media, and GIS/data), and 47 new group/grad study rooms and 1,000 new seats.

– New Services, including: the Discovery Centre, Jacob Siskind Music Resource Centre, GIS/Data Lab, expanded space for Archives and Research Collections and expanded New Sun Joy Maclaren Centre.

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