Public Library of Steubenville and Jefferson County | Home
June 25, 2019 | Branch Locations | Contact Us
Public Library of Steubenville and Jefferson County
Serving Jefferson County, Ohio Since 1899
Find us on Instagram
Pay Fines/Make a Donation My Account

Director's Column

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

Reference Books to Online Systems

By Alan Hall, Director, PLSJ
Publish Date - Sunday, October 22, 2017


In the past, a good public library always maintained a “reference collection” of books that were used to search for answers.


The collection was typically housed in a separate portion of the library, and contained lots of “sets” of books that expanded as a new volume was produced.


Multiple sets of encyclopedias were the mainstay of any reference collection, as different sets had different strengths for searching topics.


Between 2002-2009, nearly all of the reference publications stopped producing the standard titles of reference books in favor of online databases of the same products.


Many publishers went out-of-business, and many more merged into about 5 major companies now producing reference products.


Yes, old librarians like me were saddened by the loss of the part of the library that had been standard since libraries developed.  We always had photos taken in front of reference books because they looked good!


I was concerned that the new online databases were difficult to use and hard-to-access, but the improvement of computers and networks seems to have solved those issues.


Today, the advantages of online systems for the former reference books are overwhelming.


Online systems contain the ability to “continuously update” information when compared to sets of books which ended updating with the end of publication.


Searching of online systems produces better results than the former indexes of published books, with the ability to pull words and phrases from the text unlike an index.


Our whole library system has access to an online system as compared to a set of books which would typically be housed at the Main Library.


Online systems can be also accessed from home, or around the world with a library card account, as compared to a set of books that reside in one library collection.


A major misconception in the world today is that “everything is available on the Internet.”  In the early days of the Internet, lots of things were placed free on the Internet but in the years that have followed; many of those things have disappeared behind payments for use.


There are indeed lots of free things to access on the Internet, but not everything is free or worth the fact that you aren’t paying for the right to use it.


The online systems that the library purchases are about the same overall cost as the printed reference books of years-gone-by; but we receive the advantages that I have listed.


Our library system is seeing over a quarter million uses of our online systems in a year.


Which leads me to a major new program that our library system has started which is possible with these online systems.


The Puskarich Public Library in Cadiz worked with the SEO Computer Center in Caldwell to develop an E-Library Card that accesses only the online systems of the library for use by students.


We were delighted to make the service available in Jefferson County students in high school to supplement the resources available to them through their public library system.


This could never have happened in the former days of reference books in one library.


By the end of the year, we will be able to offer the E-Library Card to all Jefferson County students in all schools.


So, I will personally lament the loss of my beautiful reference book collection replaced by a colorful easy-to-use online system knowing that I can ascend the stairs to a couple of storage areas where I have placed a few of those old volumes just to remember when.