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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.

Things People Think About Libraries

By Alan Hall, Director, PLSJ
Publish Date - Sunday, October 29, 2017

Librarians chatter with each other either in-person, or by email, blog, or other technically advanced means to share information and ideas about their libraries.


Recently, the topic seems to have shifted to “all of those things about libraries that people assume are correct.”  (and aren’t)


My earliest recollection dates back to my high school days when I was working in the local public library reshelving books, and a woman commented to be that “you spend a lot of time putting those books on the shelves.”


I told her that I was reshelving nonfiction books, and it takes longer to do that with the Dewey Decimal numbers………


Her response was, “Oh, so those books are in some sort of order?”


I was polite, but wondered how many books she had stuck back on the shelf, wherever.


Today, the single most common question/comment is that “Nobody uses libraries anymore.”  This is based on an assumption that with the Internet, there is no need for libraries.


Ohio has 816 public library outlets across the state within 251 public library districts, not counting Bookmobiles and other service locations with 70 percent of the population with active library accounts.


The national figure is around 16,500 public library outlets; and based on 2015 statistics they were visited 1.4 BILLION times.


That relates to the second most common question, “libraries just have books don’t they?”


No, public libraries have eBooks, audiobooks, DVDs, databases, various web tutorials, forms and documents in paper format and digitized to name just a few formats.


Still the traditional paper book is checked out of libraries more and more, and the number of those books being published is actually increasing today, as well as eBooks.


“Overdue fines pay for public libraries” has been a long-term assumption of everyone; and the truth is that librarians would rather not collect those pesky overdue fines but it seems to be the only incitive to get books returned.


The overdue fines collected by our library system accounts for one-tenth of one percent of the total operating budget.

The Columbus Metropolitan Library has eliminated overdue fines and is experimenting with optional return policies, and all of Ohio libraries are watching their experiment.


“Young people don’t read” is an often-heard phrase these days.  Just because they play games on their phones, and they seem disinterested in reading as a whole doesn’t mean that they don’t read.


The publishing world for young people has gone wild in the past 20 years so someone is reading all that stuff.  Books related to hit movies have waiting lists at libraries, and young people’s curiosity is satisfied by reading.


Maybe young people’s reading habit is different from older people’s reading, so the appearance differs from the reality.


“The public library has replaced a myriad of local, state, and federal offices as the only local access point.”


This is my own perspective.  Thinking back to my beginnings of librarianship, I remember the controversy of libraries being forced to do voter registration.


Now we do it without even considering that we wouldn’t do it, since we do all sorts of non-library things as a public entity because libraries have always been open and available in the evening and weekends.


With the Internet, we have access to all of those agencies whose local, state, and federal offices are gone and we still have human beings behind our desks.  So, why not?


Most agencies have wonderful cooperation with their local public libraries and let us know if they are sending a new population of people to the library for this or that.


Then there was the man who I saw at one of our library desks who handed the librarian some papers and asked, “I don’t know what to do with these, and how to submit them.”


I have no idea what they were but the librarian sent him to another librarian who had handled whatever they were, and she was able to answer his questions.


We are answer people, or we will try or might know where the answer might be.