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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.

Collaboration and Libraries

By Alan Hall, Director, PLSJ
Publish Date - Sunday, January 30, 2011

“Collaboration” is the new word being used around government circles, to make the tax dollar extend further and provide services to the public.


For many years, the library system has been collaborating with local, state, and federal agencies to assist in the distribution of forms and information to the public.


This has become more important as local outlets for those agencies have disappeared and closed as agency budgets have diminished.


The availability of the Internet at libraries has enhanced our ability to access other government agencies and offices and provide that information to the public.


Collaboration among libraries has been ongoing for some time, with Ohio being a national leader in that effort.


Why Ohio?  The first cooperative library organization for moving library materials was established in Columbus in 1967, and continues its efforts worldwide from the headquarters of OCLC, Inc.


In addition, Ohio’s public libraries have a basis of funding on the statewide level, which allows local libraries to share information and materials across Ohio.


That reminds me of a retirement luncheon that I attended a decade ago.  The long-time Director of the Newark Public Library was being honored, and librarians from SE Ohio were in attendance.


In the middle of his gracious retirement speech, he looked at me and said, “and Alan, I will never forget when collaboration almost got me in trouble with one of your predecessors at Steubenville.”


The retiring Director recounted that in 1952 (he remembered the specific year) he was at a workshop with the then-Director of the Steubenville Library and they were discussing how difficult it was to keep enough different Mystery Books in their libraries to satisfy the public demand.


The idea of swapping Mystery Books between the two libraries was discussed, and both agreed that it was a great idea.  Different and new titles for both libraries and their users!


Newark Library boxed up 50 mystery books and sent them to Steubenville Library, and vice versa.


The books were simply placed on the Mystery shelves of the opposite library for all to enjoy and checkout.


All went well, until inquiring library users wanted to know why Steubenville Library books were on Newark’s shelves, and Newark Library books were on Steubenville shelves.


A fire storm erupted as library patrons worried that the Directors were giving away their library books!


The plan had been to continue the swap to include Zanesville and Cambridge libraries, but both Directors felt that it was enough experimentation for the time, and the Mystery Books quietly returned to their home library, and everyone gave a sigh of relief.


It was an experiment that might have been ahead-of-its-time, but not long after 1952 the Interlibrary Loan of specific books titles became more commonplace.


In 1961, the regional library opened in Caldwell to serve southeastern Ohio, and began to experiment with a “hot sheet” of library books that people wanted to borrow.


The invention of the telefaxsimile machine (fax) allowed faster transmission of data and information, and the Mystery Books began to “move” around area libraries.


In 1988, our library joined Cadiz, St. Clairsville, and Woodsfield libraries to link to the regional library and begin a database of library collection holdings.


That system still operates, and the 4 libraries have become 77 library systems with 173 library outlets all around Ohio, with 6 million items.


E-books are being done with collaboration, and databases are part of the system.


And it may have started in 1952 with a few Mystery Books.