RILM and the IBM Selectric

Dorothy Curzon, the Managing Editor of RILM Abstracts between 1975 and 1988, with her Selectric.

Although the production of RILM Abstracts has always heavily relied on computing technology, the computers of the 1960s and 1970s were not able to support the complexities of its multilingual and multicultural mission. Even the most powerful IBM mainframe System/370, used in the production of RILM Abstracts from 1970 to 1988, had limited possibilities for rendering different fonts, writing systems, and diacritical signs. For RILM, displaying names and terms in their most accurate representations—including rendering them in their original writing systems—was an imperative since its inception in 1967.

RILM’s Soviet national committee, headed in the 1960s and 1970s by Grigorij Mihajlovič Šneerson (1901–82) and Ûrij Vsevolodovič Keldyš (1907–95), was prolific, contributing a large number of records for publications issued in the Russian language. As the S/370 was unable to render their authors and titles in Russian Cyrillic, early RILM editors used another, much simpler IBM machine: the Selectric typewriter. The Selectric’s changeable typeball made possible it to render different fonts and scripts. For RILM editors it was like an automated transliteration machine, since its typeball with Cyrillic letters enabled printing Russian texts by typing on a standard roman-letter keyboard.

Record from a printed volume of RILM Abstracts, with author and title rendered in Cyrillic.

IBM introduced the Selectric typewriter on 31 July 1961, 60 years ago today!

Typeballs used during the 1970s in the production of RILM Abstracts, preserved in the Museum of RILM History.

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