By ROBERT D. HANDLOFF
On April 10, the Cataloging Distribution Service (CDS) of the Library said a sort of farewell to the 20th century as it turned off its mainframe computer, an IBM 3084, for the last time. For nearly 30 years, CDS had been operating its own mainframe to develop and produce the full line of bibliographic products and services it currently sells to libraries around the world.
"Like the end of the century, this event represents more than the end of an era," said Peter R. Young, chief of CDS. "It also represents a new beginning: for CDS and, in many ways, for the Library of Congress itself. We are saving about $1 million per year by cutting computer maintenance costs, reducing support personnel and having the Library's Information Technology Services (ITS) support CDS processing requirements. At the same time, we have begun to replace the large mainframe with small, fast servers that will enable CDS to better serve the Library and our customers. We plan to reduce turnaround time, ensure faster delivery of product and improve our responsiveness to customer concerns."
At precisely noon, Peter Young gave the order to Tom Costa, of the Architect of the Capitol Electrical Shop, to "power down" operations by shutting down the banks of tape drives. (In 1971 Mr. Costa helped install the first CDS mainframe to be located in the Adams Building.) Then a group comprising Deputy Librarian of Congress Donald Scott, Director of Information Technology Services (ITS) Herb Becker, and from CDS, Senior Computer Operator Frank Ciarleglio as well as Network Specialist Caesar Williams pushed the "Power Off" button on the processing units of the IBM 3084.
CDS purchased its first mainframe, an RCA Spectra 70, in 1971, when the division was housed at the Navy Yard in Southeast Washington. In 1975, CDS replaced the RCA with its first IBM, a 370/135, acquired secondhand from ITS, as virtually all of the subsequent CDS mainframes have been. New versions of the CDS mainframe were installed in 1979 (and reinstalled in 1981, when CDS moved out of the Navy Yard), 1984, 1986, 1990 and 1993. Operations went smoothly. Neither Mr. Ciarleglio nor Norman Billingsley of CDS, who have been working with the CDS mainframes since 1981, could recall even a single incident that disrupted production.
During the 1970s, the mainframes were used primarily to print catalog cards, which CDS once produced by the tens of millions. In those early days, as many as 30 staff members were required simply to service the units, performing such tasks as changing tape reels, threading tape and programming. "It was physically demanding labor," said Mr. Billingsley.
As the demand for catalog cards dropped from a high of 60 million in 1968 to fewer than 30,000 in 1996, CDS used the mainframes to manipulate its growing bibliographic record databases, in support of such publications as the LC Classification schedules, Library of Congress Subject Headings and the entire MARC Distribution Service. Those operations were transferred to the ITS mainframe last fall.
In his remarks after the unit was shut down, Mr. Young reminded the audience, "We're here to celebrate the accomplishments of the CDS staff for the service facilitated by this machine -- service to the Library of Congress, to other libraries, indeed, to library patrons around the country and the world." Mr. Young added that, according to his rough calculations, the output from the CDS mainframes exceeded 3 billion printed documents and records, which have gone to libraries around the world. "You can walk into any library anywhere and probably find something from CDS. This is an accomplishment of those CDS staff members who for years worked with units like the IBM 3084." Mr. Young then gave the Deputy Librarian a memento of the occasion: the IBM nameplate from the 3084 attractively encased in Plexiglas.
Mr. Handloff is in the Cataloging Distribution Service.