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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.

40 years ago - My First Library Job

By Alan Hall, Director, PLSJ
Publish Date - Sunday, December 26, 2010

40 years ago this week, I started my first job in a public library. 


I was a teenager who had answered an ad posted at the high school for Pages to work at the local public library in the evening.


I was one of the young people who re-shelved things returned to the library, and performed other odd jobs around the library.


Many of you know that I am a native of Marietta, and the public library there is a 1916 Carnegie that sits atop a prehistoric Indian mound.


It was a fascinating place to work as a place for your first job.  Those early years of working with the public provided training for my years of working in a library.


Thinking back to those early days, much has changed; yet many things remain the same.


Libraries were busy places, but the tools that we use have changed with time and technology.


Coin-operated copy machines were just appearing in libraries.  They were enormous machines that slowly produced a photocopy, and most people needed assistance in working the mechanism.


Books were common on the shelves of a library, supplemented with record albums, 16mm films, and some cassette recordings.


Computers were unknown to most libraries, only a handful of major libraries had mainframe computer systems.


Those systems operated around tape drive units, and key punch cards to entered and retrieved data.


The Ohio College Library Center in Columbus had been formed in 1967 to serve as a union list of books that could be found in area libraries.  In addition, they produced catalog cards for libraries around the world.


Today, it is simply called OCLC, Inc. and provides a multitude of services to libraries around the world, and produces “Worldcat,” an online catalog of library holdings.


In my first year, I learned to operate a “telefacsimile” machine (today’s fax) that could send one sheet of information via telephone lines to a remote location in only 6 minutes.


Checkout of library materials was accomplished with a book charger machine, or a “needler machine to separate the cards by the date due.


Large rolodex files kept information for speedy recovery for the public.


The Internet was being used exclusively by the Defense Dept. and colleges for specific purposes, but no public libraries were involved.


Library training involved use of indexes and abstracts of information to access other print sources of data information.


Much of the information from my early days of librarianship could be easily used in later years of automated searching and information retrieval.


Customer service hasn’t changed only the means and methods for providing the service has changed.


Do you want to know the closely-held secret of libraries of that era?  We really couldn’t tell you if a book was checked out of the library or not.


Those cards were kept in order by the date due, so if you asked us if a certain book was checked out, librarians 40 years ago didn’t have a clue.


Once overdue, the cards were placed in order by the person who checked it out, and then the answer to that question became clearer.


Today, a library’s computer system can be accessed by a variety of methods, and information is at the librarian’s fingertips at any time.


Thousands of requests are handled daily by library systems, and managed with a degree that we could have only dreamed about 40 years ago.


Today, it is a wonderful time to be involved as a librarian, just the same as when I started 40 years ago.