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Director's Column

PLSJC Director Alan Hall writes a weekly column discussing library and community news, history, and other interesting subjects.

The Stuff we do at the Library

By Alan Hall, Director, PLSJ
Publish Date - Sunday, December 14, 2014

As we approach the end of 2014, I was looking at the public library and the changes that have taken place recently with the changes in technology.


My thoughts were formed by a luncheon conversation recently with Library Directors from all across Ohio held as part of a Columbus workshop by the state library association.


The topic of the workshop was not the topic at lunchtime.  It began with a casual question from someone who asked, “So, what is happening at your library these days?”


The general answer from everyone around my table was, “We are busier than ever doing everything under the sun.”


A little of this, a little of that; and a whole lot of stuff seemed to be the overall answer.


Most everyone thinks of a public library as a repository of books, you know, the old kind with bindings, pages, and the author and title printed on the front cover and spine.  We still check out those books to the public, and we arrange them on shelves for the public to select from, but then someone noted that people “just don’t browse in the shelves like they used to do.”


Yes, that is correct, in my early days of librarianship people entered the library and drifted around to their favorite areas and “browsed” when selecting books.  Some people still do that, but many have already made their selections online at home or office and simply “pick up” their books at the library.


There was a study done years ago that found that librarians, following 30 years in the profession, were found to have a 10 percent neck bend to the right from years of tilting their heads to read the spines of books on a shelf.


I guess that has been replaced by stronger bifocal glasses needed from reading computer screens to select books, and thicker finger joints from pounding the keyboard of a computer.


Then there’s all that other stuff that we do in a public library these days.  It began with voter registration in 1977 and has moved along to Public Notary service in all of our locations, to tax forms that used to be available in banks and post offices; and the whole myriad of forms and paperwork that has fallen to the public library as local offices disappeared and closed.


Our conversation finally got around to eBooks, eMagazines, and other eStuff in online databases.


Librarians think that eBooks are great!  Electronic books that fit into little flat machines, and can become Large Print Books at the adjustment of the font.  Wow, that is the dream of any librarian in 1960.


We are still a bit uncomfortable that these eBooks are stored in a cloud and come speeding down into your little flat machine, sit there while you use them, then return to the library cloud on their own with no overdue fines.


We never have to re-shelve those eBook things and the people using our eBooks only need a library card and can do it all at home and don’t even have to come to the library.  Then why are our public libraries still busy?


Well, people still check out “real books” and they use the 100 plus computers around our system, and they borrow books from the other 90 library systems in our system, and they get help with eBooks, and they attend programs, and so on and so forth.


And despite the assumption that every bit of information in the world is on the Internet, it is not.  Actually more and more information is now hiding behind a wall that requires a payment to get around, and your library card can also become what opens many of those doors with the online systems available to the public.


To change the subject, I noted to the lunch crowd that my library was involved in moving the Steelworker Statue to the library yard which provoked a discussion of other historical things in the yards of Ohio public libraries.


Several noted that the Birchard Library in Fremont sits on the site of Fort Stephenson and there is a monument and the cannon “Old Betsy” in their yard.  Several other historical markers were noted in library yards.


To go back to the subject of busy libraries, one of the reasons that Andrew Carnegie funded libraries a century ago was to provide the public with a place to obtain information and education.  “The People’s University” was used to describe a public library.


Again, all that has changed are the tools that we use to obtain the information.