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The significance of the CSIRAC Software Library

This is Australia's oldest software library and almost certainly the oldest in the world. The software it holds represents the starting point of the Australian software industry which, today, is of great importance to the nation. Indeed, Australia has a long and notable history in software development. The CSIRAC software is significant as it marks a tangible starting point of a major field of great economic and strategic importance.

Software is the blood that gives life to a computer. Without the software a computer is merely an assemblage of electronic and mechanical devices. The fundamental characteristic of a stored program computer is the ability to perform different functions according to the instructions (the software) loaded into the machine.

The Software Library for CSIRAC comprises punched paper tapes, in boxes, placed in order within a set of purpose-built pigeon holes. These tapes store subprograms (sometimes called subroutines) which instructed the computer to perform specific calculations or tasks. These tasks were those were frequently required by programmers in developing a program for a particular purpose. The availability of proven, efficient, subprograms in the library meant that programmers did not need to create such commonly required subprograms. Programmers could select the appropriate subprograms and incorporate them into their own programs.

The program library was therefore the precursor of the more user friendly languages and the operating systems which were developed as computers became more numerous and were used more widely.

The Software Library includes music tapes. CSIRAC was the first computer to generate music in the world. The tapes are the only existing record of such programs from any first generation computer.

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