Editor’s note: Continuing our previous conversation about the history of the WLN, I asked Dr. Harris to comment on a few other writing center matters, including the history of the Purdue OWL, concerns for the future, and the future of the WLN.
HISTORY OF THE PURDUE OWL
We started the Purdue Writing Lab in 1975 on an experimental basis for a year, and next year, beginning in 1976, it was officially started. But that was long before email or the internet. We developed cabinets full of handouts for students to keep them from taking notes as we talked, and if we took out handouts, we’d mark them up so that they were personalized for the student to take home.
Somewhere in the 80’s when email came along, I thought we should make those hundreds of handouts available when the Lab wasn’t open, so I managed to scrape bits and pieces of funding to get them up on an automatic system so that students could email a request for a list, then email by number which handouts they wanted (all in ASCII characters, of course), and it would come back immediately.
I don’t know how people all over the world learned about that looooong list of handouts, but we quickly realized thousands of requests were coming in. When Gopher became available, we moved to Gopher, and when web browsers came along, we moved onto the web, all the while watching increasing numbers, so that it quickly jumped to millions of requests from all over the world. It’s still well into the millions.