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Issues in Science and Technology Librarianship
Summer 2004

Book Reviews

A History of Online Information Services: 1963-1976

Gregory K. Raschke
Assistant Head of Collection Management
NCSU Libraries
North Carolina State University

A History of Online Information Services: 1963-1976. Charles P. Bourne and Trudi Bellardo Hahn. Cambridge and London: The MIT Press, 2003. 493 p. (ISBN 0-262-02538-8)
Online information systems and services often develop from a conglomerate of loosely related events. Coherent historical narratives documenting their development can be difficult to construct because of the diversity of sources as well as the fundamental problem of finding logical boundaries for the research. As a result, chroniclers of online information systems tend to either take an all-inclusive cursory approach (Meadow 1988), or conduct an incredibly detailed study of a particular system or event that lacks appropriate context (Pizer 1994). In A History of Online Information Services, Charles Bourne and Trudi Bellardo Hahn are able to split the difference and create a detailed narrative that addresses key contextual developments while effectively holding the reader's interest.

By focusing on the period from 1963 to 1976, the authors capture the emotion and revolutionary nature of moving from a fundamentally print information service system, to one that is chiefly based on online systems without getting lost in the expanse of the entire evolution from Vannevar Bush to the networked web. Service, as opposed to system, is the key word in the book's title. By focusing on overall services rather than narrowing in on the systems themselves, the book transcends its encyclopedic narrative and somewhat numbing detail to present a balanced focus on people, events, and products. This holistic approach enables the writers to interject compelling biographical narratives of the key players who took developing online systems from experimental to fundamental components of information service. The best example is chapter five, where the long and winding development of DIALOG is bolstered by insights into integral service developers such as Roger Summit and Van Wente. As the authors explain in summing up the story of online information services, "It was not the available hardware, but the pioneers' visions of possibilities that pushed the frontier" (Pizer 1994).

Bourne and Bellardo Hahn fill a significant gap in the information science and computing literature. Among the many efforts to chronicle development of online information systems and services from infancy to mature industry, none has addressed this historical period in such detail nor brought the intelligent perspective of this work. The book holds one's interest well enough for a complete read by scholars of the history of information science as well as being useful as stand-alone chapters or snippets of detail. The indexing is quite helpful and facilitates the use of the book as a reference tool. A History of Online Information Services is recommended for information science and computing collections as well as anyone interested in the history of information retrieval.


Meadow, Charles T. 1988. Back to the future: making and interpreting the database industry timeline. Database 11 (October) 14-16.

Pizer, Irwin H. 1994. Looking backward, 1984-1959: twenty-five years of library automation--a personal view Bulletin of the Medical Library Association 72(4): 335-348.

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