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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.

Interlibrary Loan

By Alan Hall, Director, PLSJ
Publish Date - Sunday, September 25, 2016

According to the Google Book Project, the total number of books ever published in the world is 129,864,800.


To me, that number seems low; but according to their description they are only counting titles once, and are only counting what they call a “book.”


For the point of comparison, I pulled up statistics from America’s largest library – The Library of Congress – and they list a book collection of 33 million cataloged books, and a total collection of “items” in excess of 155 million.


There is a misconception that the Library of Congress must contain two (2) copies of every book published in the United States for copyright purposes, but that is not true.


LC receives some 15,000 books per day, but only maintains those titles significant to the library’s collection, or something related to federal publications.


When public libraries began earnest development following the Civil War, each library tried to collect the largest number of books to fill the requests and needs of the public.


By the turn of the 20th Century, most libraries were struggling to obtain larger and larger collections, not to mention finding shelving to house that many books.


Library Schools of the day were training librarians to evaluate and survey their service area to determine what the information needs were of the people using their library.


Statewide development of libraries was encouraged by state library agencies, with the State Library of Ohio opening a Library Development Office in 1906.


Many libraries established to serve a particular city population were expanded to serve the whole county in which the library was located as was done here in 1936 when the State Library of Ohio made the City Library into the Public Library of Steubenville and Jefferson County.


About the same time, a statewide “Union Catalog” was established in Columbus to help libraries find specific book titles in Ohio libraries so that books could be loaned to requesting libraries for their library users.


Forty years later, when I joined the library profession, one of my first jobs was to produce an additional card and use a rubber stamp to show that our library owned such a book.


Somewhere, in a remote room of the State Library of Ohio, some poor librarian filed cards, and filed cards, and filed cards; with a second person checking those files to locate a requested book.


In 1977, it was “cutting edge” technology, although early computers were replacing that Union Catalog.


In your local library, if you didn’t find the book you wanted, you were sent to some desk where a librarian would pound out your request on a four-part form that was mailed, or “faxed” to a state agency that started the process that took 3-4 weeks to locate and request the book-in-question.


Inter-library loan was the scary name for it, with the look on the librarian’s face saying, “You better darn-well want this book for all the work I am putting into this request!”


The only scariest follow-up would be if you told the librarian when the book arrived that you no longer needed or wanted it.


Of course, today all of this is replaced with our automated system showing the collections of 92 public library systems in Ohio, with an online request system.


If the book is still not available, another computer system can place a request online to any holdings of Worldcat


Libraries are also supplemented by digitized collections, and eBooks, and other online stuff, all of which becomes the total collection of a public library system.


We are trying to change our communications with you the public, and eliminate the phrasing “interlibrary loan” or “requests” or a “central union catalog of holdings” and just say, “Here, we will get this for you.”


It is the only way a library can operate today, with bags and bundles of requested books arriving daily to fill the public’s needs.


A public library textbook, published in 1942, suggested that Ohio’s public libraries might want to avail themselves of a new poster which said, “Every book is a new book to me until I have read it.”