PLSJC Director Alan Hall writes a weekly column discussing library and community news, history, and other interesting subjects.
“Library browsing” has changed over the years.
Librarians used to watch as people browsed through the bookshelves, some looking in one subject area, while others would roam up and down the aisles enjoying books and library materials of all types.
Some people still do this, but more people have already done their research at home beforehand, and arrive at the library to simply retrieve the materials they have already selected.
The change began at our library system in 1993 with the demise of the card catalog, and replacement with an online computer system.
As that system was made available online through the Internet, it was discovered by many library users.
Today, it is typical for someone to search the library online from home and request the items for pick-up.
Another factor is that the online system contains the collections of 74 library systems, while the card catalog had the collection of only the building in which the catalog was located.
The online catalog also allows more searching by categories that weren’t available in the days of the card catalog.
In addition to author/title/subject, the online catalog searches by keyword, performer, subject notes, and allows combinations of over 30 categories.
With 6 million items in the system, it is like looking in the collection of a major metropolitan library system.
So, if you watch the foot traffic in our libraries, a lot of people are simply entering to retrieve what they have already searched and requested electronically.
Beyond that, why do people come to the public library?
People come to the library to use our computers to search the system that others searched at home.
There is definitely a decrease in the number of people with computers at home, or with computers at home with Internet access.
The economy has impacted people’s ability to maintain an operating computer, and upgrades to software, as well as having access to the Internet. It’s not free.
The public library is quickly being identified as a location for Internet access, for checking e-mails to connecting to business.
All of our buildings have wireless connections, although providing enough bandwidth has proven to be a struggle even for us.
People also come to the library to interact with a human being.
While that sounds odd, our society has virtually eliminated human contact from the information puzzle, and the library remains the one location that has humans answering the phone without an endless selection of number choices.
We also have seven locations within the county from which to access the library, also unusual in our society today.
In an odd sort of way, the public library system has become a place to access information on the Internet, as well as a place to get away from that same electronic confusion that our society promotes.
Even today, browsing at the library achieves the satisfaction of information provided to all.