As Foolproof as the Telephone: Automation and Gendered Labor


  • Patrick Keilty University of Toronto



This essay examines the development of Machine-­Readable Cataloging in the late 1950s and early 1960s, relating it to a popular filmic speculation about feminized labor and the automation of information retrieval, in order to ultimately discuss the paradoxical ways in which MARC transformed the feminized labor of information. It will show that cataloging, like other forms of women’s labor transformed by technology in the latter part of the twentieth century, has a complicated relationship to market labor and industrialization that is the result of social processes over which librarians can be said to have no control at all, or certainly very little control, particularly industrialization, the Cold War, and the shift in the national economy’s focus from production to service, from manufacturing to communication.