PLSJC Director Alan Hall writes a weekly column discussing library and community news, history, and other interesting subjects.
[library article 9 MAY 2010]
By Alan Hall
If you have a need to use a public agency, you typically have to meet some criteria that matches the services that agency offers to the public.
You have to meet an income requirement; or you have to be younger than, or older than a particular age.
You have to have a specific need for a service.
Except for the public library.
We are unique; we are a public agency who serves anyone and everyone who needs some sort of information.
Our buildings offer evening and weekend hours, unusual for most public agencies.
Until last year, our Schiappa Branch even offered hours on Sundays.
Upon entering our buildings, you will find a public service desk that has a human being staffing it.
If the building is open, a human being will answer the telephone.
These qualities are unique in our society today.
Other agencies have handed off their services to the public library because of all of these qualities that we possess.
Forms and paperwork for now-closed agencies are available at the public library, or by using the computers at the library to download the forms, or complete the forms online.
It all fits the purpose of the public library, even the purpose stated on opening day of 1902: “to provide the public with education and information.”
People still associated public libraries with books, and that is okay, too.
We still have shelves of books accessible online and batched with other libraries to provide the broadest selection of titles.
There are books online as e-books, which can be downloaded and used electronically.
There are books on CD, and information on DVDs.
There is digitized information that has been scanned from published information.
Most of our buildings have “public notaries” to perform duties that used to be easily found in our communities in offices.
And there are computers for the public to use.
Every day we receive questions from the public about where to ask questions.
Given our economy, we have people developing resumes, or applying online for jobs.
We have people working on their employment skills.
I think that Ellen Summers Wilson, the first librarian who served from 1900-1904, would recognize the library of today.
She started several clubs for children and adults, stood at the Mill gates and passed out cards with the library hours, and got old Civil War maps from the government for the veterans to enjoy.
The library has simply adjusted its services for the needs and the era, but the basic task of information to the public has never changed.