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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.

Working at the Library

By Alan Hall, Director, PLSJ
Publish Date - Sunday, August 13, 2017

 

Recently I worked at the circulation desk of our Schiappa Branch Library on a Saturday, filling the schedule for vacations and time-off.

 

I should do this more often, as it was delightful to work with the library staff and experience library service firsthand.

 

I was concerned as I am usually operating the automated circulation system from the administrative end, not the public function at the desk.

 

So, I told staff that I would be “looking over their shoulder” at first to refresh my memory to how the staff functions work at checkout.

 

One library customer asked the staff what they did wrong, as the “big boss” is lurking behind them snooping.

 

I explained that I was just confirming that I know how to do things correctly before launching into making mistakes.

 

I remembered the correct way of answering the phone, but thought it was safer to write down what the person wanted done with their library account rather than do it online right then.

 

The customer was satisfied, but I goofed it up and had to call the Main Library to get my process corrected.

 

Then, something happened that I could handle --- the toilet was plugged.  I successfully took care of that problem immediately.

 

Overall the day went well, and I was impressed with the staff’s interaction with the public.  Some people they knew as avid library users and others seemed to be first-time users.

 

We handled the age-old questions about this book or that book, to questions about databases and online systems and linking your laptop to the library’s WiFi.

 

Public libraries today are not what is visible in the library building; they have expanded to the far reaches of the information world.

 

At the fingertips of both the librarian and the public are countless databases of information with millions and millions of pages of stuff of all kinds and dimensions, enhanced by special online sources sponsored by the library system itself.

 

Twice during the day we used the “Auto Repair Reference Center” and the “Chilton Library” both online products contracted by the library to replace the former auto repair manuals that are no longer published in paper format.

 

And thank goodness!  Librarians remember the days of digging through hundreds of grease-smeared pages looking for one specific car repair subject --- now replaced by an online system to extracts the information and provide 2-3 pages of the exact information.

 

Actually, a drop-down box with 30 or so databases has replaced the entire reference collection of a public library of days-gone-by.

 

Now don’t worry, public libraries do check out the traditional paperbound volumes of books, and just as many as always!

 

As I was checking in books returned by library users, I observed how one book was ready to be reshelved, another was returning to the Main Library or Dillonvale Branch, and just as many were going into delivery for libraries in Coshocton, Newark, or Defiance.

 

One computer system manages the millions of circulations of books and materials in 93 library systems just like a traffic signal regulates cars & trucks on the street.

 

I had to think back to my early days in a public library with a pile of returned books, hunting for those 3 x 5 cards to put in the pocket so they could be reshelved.

 

The little secret of librarians at the time was that we couldn’t find some of the correct cards for some of the books, and they were hidden away “under the desk” and called “stickers” because they were “stuck” in the checkout system.

 

Every so often, a staffer would be assigned to work on the “stickers” by making a list in-order on a sheet of paper (or papers) and taking the card trays one-at-a-time to a hidden area away from public view and looking through the cards one-by-one to find the misfiled cards.

 

That can’t happen with a computer, and it is part of circulation that librarians are glad to eliminate.

 

There is one more thing that hasn’t been eliminated in the library world.  Did you ever observe an old librarian’s neck?  It is always bent slightly to the right from years of reading the spines on books on a shelf.  That’s the last secret.