SECTION ON MANAGEMENT OF INFORMATION RESOURCES AND TECHNOLOGY (SMART)
A HISTORY OF ITS FIRST FORTY YEARS, 1959-99
Ellen C. Rappaport, Teresa Strozik, and J. James Mancuso
Early in its history, section president Felix Reichmann of Cornell University Library set an ambitious agenda for the fledgling NYLA section now known as SMART. At the 1961 business meeting of NYLA’s Resources and Technical Services Section, he defined the work of technical services librarians, and the concerns of the new NYLA section. He listed some of the problems technical services librarians faced:
Mechanization: it “will solve some of our problems, but it will create many more difficult ones.”
Regional and national obligations for acquisitions, and shared acquisitions.
Revision of the catalog code.
Preservation of valuable local materials.
Statistics: “how to count library holdings, how to calculate processing costs.”
Training of professionals and non-professionals for technical services work.
Image of technical services work: “we should never forget that technical services are … an integral part of the library’s work.”
This section of NYLA, which deals with technical and technological issues was founded in early 1957 as the Technical Services Committee. Robert Kingery of the New York Public Library served as its chair. It initially functioned as a program committee, and has always placed great emphasis on programs, apprizing New York librarians of the newest methods and devices for controlling their library collections. It achieved status as a section of NYLA in 1959 under its original name of Resources and Technical Services Section (RTSS), and changed its name to Section on Management of Information Resources and Technology (SMART) in 1980/81 to reflect a shift in its focus.
PROGRAMS: From the first, the section’s programs examined new developments. For several years, the section presented a series of programs called “New developments in….” at NYLA conferences. Automation of technical services operations was on the program for New York librarians as early as it began to affect libraries. In the Technical Services Committee’s second year of programming (when mainframe computers were just beginning to be used in industry), the manager of IBM’s Research Center library spoke on “Can the Machine Supplant the Abstracter, Indexer, and Cataloger?”
This was the year in which a petition was circulated, during the annual conference, requesting the formation of a Technical Processes Section. At the November 1959 NYLA Council meeting, the Technical Services Committee was granted section status. Dr. Joseph Brewer of Queens College Library was designated as president pro-tem.
Programs on the use of new technology to accomplish technical services tasks sketch the recent history of technology’s use in libraries. In the late 1950s and early ’60s, there were three programs on copying methods and Xerography. But the overwhelming emphasis quickly shifted to automation.
Programs on automation appeared nearly every year. The 1965 annual conference offered an introduction to data processing, as it was called then, and a program on “data processing in action — practical aspects,” with a speaker from a library system which had begun to automate. The 1965 program reached beyond technical services concerns to show a film on Medlars, the beginning of the medical database. In 1972, while most libraries were still ordering sets of catalog cards, there was a program on cataloging support systems for academic libraries.
In those early years of automation, several programs reflected some librarians’ concern that computers might make them obsolete, or might replace them entirely with paraprofessionals and support staff. By the 1976 conference, attention had turned from how-to-automate to a program on the “impact of computerized systems on staffing.” A few years later, there was a program on the organizational and social aspects of technology.
In the ’80s, the section offered several programs on telecommunications. A recent program was called “Life after log-on: coping with the changes that automation brings.” From RTSS’s first conference in 1957 to SMART’s programs planned for this year’s centennial conference, the section’s programs have contemplated automation’s problems and concerns as fast as they came up.
Program topics ranged beyond automation, over the whole scope of technical services. There were frequent programs on acquisitions: “The librarian and the subscription agent: ever the twain should meet;” “An examination of current problems in the publishing world and their effect on library acquisitions programs;” a program on policies for collection development, a program jointly sponsored with a chapter of the Music Library Association on the selection, acquisition and cataloging of sound recordings.
The section has always supported the use of national library standards, encouraging New York libraries to do so. Adherence to standards has been an important criterion for the section when considering recommendations for funding library projects. Programs informed librarians about the standards for binding, for cataloging, for telecommunication, and for preservation.
In addition to the examination of options for automated cataloging, there were programs on cataloging rules, on subject headings, and on cataloging specialized types of material. When AACR2 menaced, the section sponsored major programs and attempted to facilitate registration for the Library of Congress’ AACR2 programs.
The section included in its programming the subject of preservation of library materials. The destructive floods in Italy in 1966 may have spawned all the section’s programs for the 1967 conference: four programs on preservation, concluding with “Fire and flood — destroyed books in New York City and Florence.” Recent programs on preservation have focused on low-budget preservation efforts in smaller libraries. Since preservation is a concern of all libraries, the section’s programs, both introductory and specialized, draw together librarians from all kinds of libraries.
As well as hands-on topics like cataloging or preservation, the section offered programs on that more abstract aspect of the tech services librarian’s work — management. Programs included: “Planning, programming and budgeting for technical services;” “Managing microcomputer resources,” “Training staff to use microcomputer software,” “Recruiting the technical services professional.”
Conferences frequently offered discussion groups, “circles of knowledge,” or “cracker-barrel sessions,” with informal discussions of tech services problems and solutions. These programs provided the important opportunity for librarians who were facing challenges from the new technology to meet colleagues in distant libraries facing the same problems.
The Rudi Weiss Memorial Lecture program has allowed SMART in recent years to fund a conference program on a broader topic. Rudi Weiss, of the Westchester Library System, was an active member of the section through the ’60s, serving as president in 1965. To honor his memory, the section first established a grant to enable a librarian to attend a workshop or meeting on some aspect of technical services.
In 1981, the section decided to sponsor instead one major lecture at each annual NYLA conference. The Rudi Weiss lecturer is to be a promoter or defender of libraries or of the idea of public access to information. The speaker often works outside the walls of libraries. Topics have ranged from copyright to a feminist view of Melville Dewey.
RTSS and SMART conferences were not all work, no play. SMART claims credit for inventing the NYLA dessert reception in 1987, in honor of the Rudi Weiss lecturer at Lake Placid. In 1997, some board members formed a troupe of players known as “the SMARTies” who began annual performances of the Technostress program. Each year the players have regaled the audience with sing-alongs, fashion shows, and comedy skits “to relieve the stress caused by the pace of technological change.”
As library automation became both more complex and more widely used in the 1990’s, SMART programs became ever more popular and widely attended at conferences. As the harbingers of new hardware and of software applications, SMART program planners perceived the need for quality, substantial programs at basic, intermediate and levels, aimed at training New York librarians in the use of emerging technologies. Programs which hitherto had been mostly applicable only to technical services librarians suddenly became relevant to all as SMART offered continuing education courses and programs on microcomputing, common office software, and later, on how to use the Internet and design webpages.
At the 1999 Conference, SMART celebrated its 40th anniversary by presenting a display of Forty Years of Technology. Members contributed many items of outdated library technologies such as electric erasers that demonstrated to the Conference attendees the many ways in which technical processing has changed over the years.
PUBLICATIONS: The section published a newsletter from time to time. When the NYLA Bulletin included columns for NYLA’s sections, members of the RTSS or SMART executive boards contributed monthly columns. They ranged from announcements of programs to calls for action to philosophical musings on librarianship. The section published two manuals on “what an institution can do to survey its conservation needs,” in 1979 and in 1982.
A new form of “publishing” information emerged in the early 1990’s: the Internet. The SMART section, under the leadership of Margaret Lanoue, established a Web Committee which created the NYLA website that debuted at the conference in 1995. Work on the website expanded greatly over the next few years, until the Council recognized the need to officially establish the Web Committee as a standing committee of NYLA on its own. SMART’s leadership in this area did much to increase the awareness of the Association of the need for technically trained librarians and a section devoted to technology.
MEMBERSHIP: RTSS was the first section to be organized around its members’ tasks rather than their kinds of libraries. Because there are relatively few technical services librarians, and because of the specialized nature of technical services endeavors, SMART has been NYLA’s smallest section. Because of NYLA’s formula for allocating member dues, the small number of members has kept the section’s budget small. The section tried to increase membership with letter-writing campaigns, and personal recruitment. SMART also sought to interest library-school students in the field of technical services by its presentation at the New York [City] Technical Services Librarians’ annual reception, to which students are invited.
In 1980, section president Harold Schleifer of SUNY Stony Brook appointed a task force to reassess the goals of the section. It was felt that section members looked inward, at their own technical services endeavors. The task force sought to reorient the section to involve librarians outside the traditional tech services tasks, and to involve tech services librarians in tasks beyond the traditional. The new perspective looked more at the management of information resources and of technology, hence the new name for the section: Section on Management of Information Resources and Technology, or SMART.
Oddly, as library automation came to the forefront throughout the waning years of the 20th century, SMART‘s membership rolls did not increase. Although the organization as a whole, and members individually, valued the contribution made by SMART, its members, and its programs, SMART remains the smallest section.
LEGISLATION: The section did not confine itself to technicalities, terminology or methodology. SMART has taken a leadership role in developing NYLA’s legislative recommendations for funding libraries, particularly for technical services programs. In recent years, SMART has made recommendations to NYLA Council concerning funding for the regional database and automation program, for the coordinated collection development program and for programs for preservation of library materials. SMART raised for NYLA the critical question of licensing fees for LC-MARC records.
THE FUTURE: In the 21st century, SMART plans to continue its emphasis on conference programming, with increased attention to new emerging technologies. The section will work to recruit new technical services librarians and concern itself with training of librarians and paraprofessionals. According to a draft of its plan for the next five years, SMART hopes to be “open to innovations in technology, resources and management, and to anticipate what will be state-of-the-art in the 21st century.” It plans to bring these innovations and developments to the attention of the whole NYLA membership.
Despite the small size of the section’s membership and budget, RTSS/SMART has been a full participant in NYLA’s legislative and conference programs. Machinery and automation, acquisitions and resource sharing, cataloging and shared cataloging endeavors, preservation, measurements, the image and training of technical services staff — this was the visionary agenda in 1961. In its first forty years, RTSS/SMART pursued this program with vigor.
New York Library Association archives, located in the New York State Library, Albany, NY.
Prentice, Ann E. The Resources and Technical Services Section of the New York Library Association; a history. Unpublished draft. July 1968.
Reichmann, Felix, “Frontiers in Technical Services, New and Old,” NYLA Bulletin, v. 10, no. 1, January 1962, pp. 1-4.
Telephone interviews with RTSS/SMART presidents and president-elect: Peter Paulson then at the New York State Library (1963, 1971/72), Jane R. Moore then at Brooklyn College Library – CUNY (1967), Marguerite C. Soroka then at the Engineering Societies Library (1973/74), Teresa Strozik then at the SUNY/OCLC Network (1976/77), William J. Myrick then at Brooklyn College Library – CUNY (1978/79), Harold B. Schleifer then at SUNY Stony Brook (1980/81), Marsha Horwitz Ra then at City College Library – CUNY (1985/86), Sharon Bonk of SUNY at Albany Library (1986/87), Ellen Parravano of Southeastern New York Library Resources Council (1987/88), Jon Lazar of Rochester Public Library (1988/89), Paul Glavin of Queens Borough Public Library (1989/90), Nancy Heller of Schenectady Community College Library (1990/91).