How Libraries Have Changed Since 1960

How Libraries Have Changed Since 1960

Origins of the Library


The word “library” comes from an Old French word, libre, which means “book.” So the beginnings of libraries have their origins traced back to being a place where lots and lots of books were located and later, organized, in a single place. Books historically have been the main source of information, and continue to be even in today’s technological world. But how we use the library has changed, and the people we meet in it have also changed.

Moving Forward by Looking Backwards


To be able to understand the retro style library, it is easier to look backwards than forward. The basic problem is that the world we live in is so digitized, the concepts associated with paper and repetition are antiquated. For example, when you go into most modern libraries, the card catalog is on a computer. The original concept of a card was a 3 by 5 inch piece of cardboard with a hole punched in the bottom.

The cards were held together by a long metal rod in a series of pull out drawers. Instead of typing in a search phrase that would give you 1,000,000 results to choose from, you looked through each. Individual. Card. Until you found the subject you were looking for. If a librarian was not a good speller, you may never have found your book even if it was in the library. Whether things have gotten better can be debated.

Another way to understand how libraries have changed in simply by counting the number of books. Not literally, of course, but notice that the actual number of physical books has either shrunk or stayed the same. The reason is that many books are now available online or in digital form, and the same goes for magazines and other periodicals.

There are those who still prefer the actual feel and physical reality of paper, and you also can find these types in used bookstores. But for most people who are involved in academic rather than leisurely use of the library, digital is preferred. Still, there is something to be said for paper.



The presence of technology has already been mentioned, and one of the biggest differences you will see by simply looking around the library is desktop computers and computer terminals. Lots and lots of them. They are there for people of all ages and education levels, but you are more likely to see the younger generations busily in front of them. In major metropolitan areas, adults are almost forced to become acquainted with them to submit their resume or apply for a job. A missing piece of technology from the 1960’s is the typewriter, replaced by those computers.

As far the people, those little old ladies who would help you find something in the card catalog or library have now been replaced with college degreed students who have an encyclopedic knowledge of where to find something on the Internet.

The Internet is becoming the new library, and both book companies and universities have accepted the fact the Internet is now an extension of the library. The people who work in the library need to be very familiar with it if they want to do more than just shelve books, a staple of the librarian of the 1960’s.

To Be Sad and Glad

There is a certain nostalgia that goes with looking back and seeing the advantages of the retro library. Computers may have made things faster, but it is not certain they have made things easier. Climbing a ladder to look for a book on the top shelf gave you a sense of actually working.

Sitting down and poring through 50 books to find what you were looking for was time consuming and sometimes tedious, but it is preferred to watching the screen go blurry spending a similar amount of time in front of a computer.

To admit that the library of days gone by is noble, and while times have changed there is always the hope that you will be able to go into a repository of paper and ink and curl up on a cold, winter afternoon to listen to what somebody else has to say about life and living. In the end, the library will outlive the attempt to be digitally hijacked in favor of speed and efficiency.


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