22 Pages

“ We Have a Computer” : Administrative Issues in the Relations Between Libraries and Campus Computing Organizations

Arno Penzias, a vice-president for research at AT&T Bell Labs and a Nobel prizewinner, lucidly describes in Ideas and Informa­ tion his close encounters of various kinds with the contemporary world of “ information work.” At one point, he recounts his disap­ pointment upon learning that a part he was ordering from a catalog could not be shipped until the next week. But, he complained to the clerk handling his order, the catalog promises same-day service. “ You must have a very old catalog,” came the response. Without a trace of irony, the clerk informed him: “ Now we have a com­ puter.” 1

For an individual or organization to “ have a computer” is to experience how deeply automation embeds-some might say entan­ gles-one in a web of complex and interdependent roles and rela­ tionships. The web includes, to mention only a few of the possibili­ ties, equipment designers and manufacturers, software engineers and programmers, documentation specialists, product vendors, ser­ vice agents, and machine operators, as well as one’s colleagues, supervisors and clients in the work that is being automated. Of course, in any computer-based automation project, the computer itself is prominent and tends to symbolize either the promise of success-that products or services will increase in quality or im­ prove in quantity-or, as in the case of the mail-order house, the curse of failure. But the computer, by itself, simply does not ac-

count for the success or failure of an automated system. The true gauge, instead, is found in an understanding of the nature, content and organization of the various roles and relationships implicated in the automation web.