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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.

Moving Library Books

By Alan Hall, Director, PLSJ
Publish Date - Sunday, November 30, 2008


The laundry carts are moved back and forth in the library, five days a week.


Library staff is busy checking in all the books and A-V materials arriving in those large plastic carts.


Library patrons who requested the items are e-mailed, mailed, or phoned to tell them that the items they requested are here.


Much of the work is done electronically in the middle of the night, as the mainframe computer processes all the requests, and directs the holds placed by the public.


The system consists of 73 libraries and 5.8 million items in those collections.


Last year, our library system handled a quarter million items in this manner.


Things have sure changed.


It was just a few years ago that people came to the library and looked in the card catalog, and if the book wasn't on the shelf, they asked the librarian at the desk.


At any one time, the library would track 200 items that had been requested and were checked out.


That was accomplished by red metal clips on 3 x 5 cards, filed by the date due.


A red metal clip on the floor meant about three hours of work to find the card, and restore the clip to its original position.


If our library didn't own a particular book, then we sent the request to the Regional Library and they placed it on the "Hotsheet."


That poor sheet of paper journeyed around through the libraries until the title was found, by which time we called it the "Rumpled sheet."


That system worked, kind of, and did match people with the books that they wanted.


With the arrival of computers and automation in our library in 1988, it was clear that the days of the red clipped cards were numbered.


It took about a decade for software to progress that it worked seamlessly, and for the mechanics to be developed to allow someone to access a database of library holdings that anyone could borrow.


Today, the system is complete and operational.  A statewide delivery system moves library materials among libraries.


Requested items are pulled from the shelf of one library, and moved to another library for pick-up.


The next generation is emerging with e-books and e-music, which is checked out and disappears in three weeks with nothing overdue.


Will books and CDs and DVDs disappear?


Perhaps someday, but for now, people are hauling armloads of "stuff" out of their public libraries.


We are busier than ever with the economic downturn and people using local resources wherever possible.


And public libraries continue to supplement the Internet with value-added information for the public.


So, while things are different, they stay the same.


The Main Library downtown is decorated for the Christmas Season, but the lights on the tree have to share their plug with a computer station.