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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.

History of our Online System

By Alan Hall, Director, PLSJ
Publish Date - Sunday, February 22, 2009

Our library system is connected to a network of 73 library systems across Ohio for the purpose of automation of checkin and checkout of materials.


The system also gives our users the advantage of searching a database of 5.8 million items in those libraries, which can be borrowed and loaned regardless of where in Ohio the person is located.


It is a great resource for the 660,000 users of those libraries.


At a meeting of the governance board that operates the system, I found myself answering several questions that arose about the network.


I then realized that Sheila Perkins from the St. Clairsville Public Library, and myself are the last remaining librarians from the original project.


We both remember sitting at an early IBM computer with a real floppy disc recording the books to be added to the first computer system.


It was 1988, and the monitors were small square devices that contained letters that looked like a bad typewriter print.


It took three years to do the original database, and connect the books to allow online circulation to the public.


My first view of library automation was in 1970 at the Columbus public library system.


Computer screens shone an eery glow on the library desks, with silver light pens used to scan the bar codes on the books for checkout.


It took several passes with the pen to "read" the bar code label, and log it into the system.


The system slowly registered the information like a typewriter onto the screen.


There was no way for the computer system to tell the public when the book was due back to the library, so a messy ink pad and rotating rubber stamp was used to stamp the date due on a small card, placed into the book.


I could not imagine how such a system would ever benefit the library or its users.


Just then, someone walked through the library at a brisk pace proclaiming, "system going down in 5 minutes," and soon this new wonder was dead-in-the-water.


The system recovered shortly, but I remember thinking that I had better learn how to use those mechanical Gaylord Book Charger machines, or the Kodak image scanners, or the needling machines that used knitting needles to separate the cards of books checked out.


Computer machines, as we called them, slowly made their way into libraries and began serving as tools for the librarians.


I remember the day when I picked up the "card separator" and hung it on the wall as a curiosity of a bygone era.


The Gaylord machine went to the storeroom, as the company wasn't sure they wanted them back.


And the computer screen began showing graphics, then flattened out taking up less space.


And I watched as us "older people" zipped along keyboarding information into these new computers using those typing skills we learned for the Royal, and the "younger people" pecked along with a couple fingers until keyboarding became a style.


Right click and left click, single click and double click replaced more key strokes and computers got so small that I had to tilt my head to get my bifocals into the little thing that I was trying to see.


I wonder how the history of the introduction of computers into society will be written, perhaps called "The Early Years."


Computers remain another tool for the librarian, just a different format.