Submitted by Violet Fox, MLIS student at University of Washington iSchool (graduating in June!). Photo: Henriette Avram presents a roll of magnetic tape holding over 9,000 bibliographic records to Richard Coward of the British National Bibliography (1967). American Libraries October 1989.
Henriette Avram (1919-2006) was a computer programmer turned librarian who developed the MARC format. Avram began her career at the National Security Agency in 1952, at a time when learning programming was “a bootstrap operation.” After moving to the private sector in the 1960s, she worked as a systems analyst and was hired at the Library of Congress’s Office of the Information System Specialist in 1965.
Tasked with manipulating cataloging data for computer processing, Avram delved into analyzing the complexities of bibliographic description. After intense evaluation, she developed a pilot program for MAchine Readable Cataloging (MARC). The pilot program lasted from 1966 to 1968, and by March 1969, LC began distributing MARC records to subscribing libraries. Avram worked tirelessly to ensure that MARC became a national and then an international standard.
A truly revolutionary innovation, MARC opened up a new world of interlibrary cooperation. For over forty years, it’s been the basis for library automation throughout the world. Avram’s work has reverberated across the library profession.
A delightful retrospective on Avram’s career is available in the October 1989 issue of American Libraries (“Mother Avram’s Remarkable Contribution”). [Ed: see also this post via My Daguerreotype Librarian.]
More of everyone’s favorite MARC format inventor, Henriette, from everyone’s favorite feminist library history blog. I love the buttons on her starchy jacket!