Even More Obsolete Technology

I freely confess that I don’t know what this is. I’m also completely confident that whatever else it might be, it’s extremely obsolete. I found all these pictures on a contact sheet in a file called “Fondren Library” and couldn’t resist blowing them up to take a good look at whatever this is.

It clearly had some circulation function, but I’m not sure what else it might have done. I hope it did a lot because it looks pretty unwieldy, like using a food processor when a sharp knife would do. But I could be totally wrong about that. After all, I don’t even know what it is!

Bonus: I was startled to see this box outside the chapel last Friday. Anyone familiar with the movie A Christmas Story will immediately conclude that it must hold an enormous lamp shaped like a woman’s leg. (It even says “Fragile” on it!)

Alas, no leg. But something exciting is going on in the chapel right now. (That’s what they call a teaser—I’ll have more later.)


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26 Responses to Even More Obsolete Technology

  1. I know what it is. I would know even if I didn’t know.

  2. marmer01 says:

    The big crate, that is. Seen a few of those around here before. 😉

  3. marmer01 says:

    The big tape drive reminds me of “computers” in old movies. Belongs in some villain’s lair.

  4. marmer01 says:

    Nice shot of the old circulation desk.

  5. Anzel says:

    I’d think some sort of magnetic tape data storage, though I’d be more inclined to think of them as being used to back up computers instead of seeing use right at the circulation desk. Maybe an early digital library archive?

  6. effegee says:

    In the early 70s, the pocket in the back of each circulating item had a Hollerith card in it as did ID cards. Read ID card and “book” card; write on tape. Pictures 2 and 3 are readers. Picture 1 is apparently the tape unit which I don’t recall ever having seen before.

    • Melissa Kean says:

      Do you have any idea what this system replaced?

      • effegee says:

        It probably replaced a manual system. Mark W. may have a better idea.

      • Mark Williamson says:

        Sorry not to have noticed this question sooner.

        The system before this one recorded the check-in/check-out data on yet more Hollerith cards. A slave punch recorded the date, whether checking in or out, and the identification of the book and borrower; maybe other data, like the time of day.

      • Mark Williamson says:

        Ah, I knew there was documentation of that previous system online. It was based on the IBM 357 Data Collection System.

        It is mentioned in passing in a talk by Mr. Richard L. O’Keeffe, Librarian of Rice University, to the Society of Rice University Women on November 12, 1973 in the Fondren Flyleaf, Vol. 24, No. 1 January 1974. A compete transcript is available at http://archive.org/stream/flyleaf1974241fond/flyleaf1974241fond_djvu.txt

        IBM published a short pamphlet entitled “Circulation Control at Rice University: Using the IBM 357 Data Collection System.” I may still have a copy from when I worked in Fondren.

    • Richard Miller (Hanszen '75 & '76) says:

      I suspect you are right. The tape drives were probably OEM and look like they are 7trk drives (similar to what I remember of the H120 drives @ BCM). Looks like an early circulation automation system. As Deborah indicated further down, Kennedy was in the business of making drive so whoever put this together put in two Kennedy drives

  7. Richard A. Schafer says:

    Is the pipe organ in the chapel being rebuilt? That box clearly seems to refer to 16′ trombone (posaune) pipes. That would be wonderful!

    • Melissa Kean says:

      Yes, indeed! I spent some time this morning talking with the guys who are doing the work. They are really impressive.

      • Richard Schafer says:

        If you’ve never looked at the guts of a pipe organ before, you should do so if they’ll let you. We recently rebuilt a lot of the pipe organ at Christ Church Cathedral, and the mechanical and electrical complexity is incredible.

      • Andrew Singletary says:

        Adding a 16′ Posaune to the chapel organ will really make a difference. Can’t wait to hear what else they are adding to it. I took lessons on that organ in 1970-71 from Klaus Christhart Krautzenstein and played a wedding there for two of my fellow Rice grads a few years later.

        • Melissa Kean says:

          It’s really pretty exciting as well as a fascinating operation to put it all together. I’m definitely trying to get more I can post about it.

        • Andrew Singletary says:

          It was also very interesting to learn that Fisk was involved in the building of the chapel organ. I knew that it was built by the Andover Organ Company, but I had never heard that Fisk worked for them and from your post was the one that was primarily responsible for its design.

  8. I read the label on the tape drive as “Kennedy [something]”, where the something might be “engineering”. The “K” logo is clear. I don’t recognize the drives at all, though I’d guess they were write-only, since there are no flanges on the feed spool. If it was doing a lot of back and forth, there would be flanges and probably tensioners on both sides of the read-write heads. I’d guess that was a journaling device for the in and out transactions.

    I did a quick web search for “library automation” and “kennedy” and didn’t find anything useful. The early references are all about the trailblazers and the crowning achievement of library computerization, MARC.

    I wish there were some head-on photos of the tech, but it is hard to make out the badges on the machines. Plus, somebody was overdeveloping their Tri-X.

    Is there a date on that contact sheet?

    • Deborah Gronke Bennett says:

      I found references to a Kennedy 9100 tape drive which was sometimes used with PDP-11s (so that dates it to late 70’s or early 80’s). I found a good picture here: http://www.computer-history.info/Page4.dir/pages/PDP.11.dir/images/KennedyTapeDrive.big.jpg
      It’s not the same model as in Melissa’s Fondren picture, but it does show that there was a Kennedy company making tape drives around then. I wish I could read a model number on the drives in Melissa’s picture.
      Google searches on this subject (searches on “Kennedy Tape Drive) mostly return links to information about President J.F. Kennedy’s White House taping system.

  9. The word after “Kennedy” is “Incremental.” I think it’s a Kennedy Incremental 1600 7-track from about 1970. Check out this PDF: http://www.textfiles.com/bitsavers/pdf/kennedy/Kennedy_1600-360_ApplGuide.pdf

  10. Kay Flowers says:

    The boxes and devices in question were part of the circulation system Fondren in to 1960s to 1978. Each book had a holerith card, and id’s had punches as well. They were placed together in the machine on the circ desk. A transaction was created that tied the book with the patron and the due date. The transaction was recorded on a tape (the tape drive, top picture). Once a week or so, the tape was taken to the computer center, ICSA at the time I was there, and a print out was created listing all materials checked out. It also produced overdue notices.

    • Melissa Kean says:

      Thank you! Do you happen to know how books were checked out before this system?

      • Kay Flowers says:

        Sorry, I am not sure, but it probably was a manual system. The system above went through several upgrades. It used to produce a holerith card rather than a tape recorded transaction. This system was also marketed by IBM or another company. I have the brochure somewhere.

    • Richard Miller (Hanszen '75 & '76) says:

      I remember those printouts. There was a copy at the main circulation desk and the reserve room I believe. One could look up who had what checked out (by your student ID which was your SSN with a lead number depending on what you were)

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