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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.

Libraries and the Internet

By Alan Hall, Director, PLSJ
Publish Date - Sunday, May 22, 2011

Our automation system, that allows libraries to collaborate with our collections, now contains 78 library systems in Ohio, with 176 locations in 41 counties.


The catalog database of materials in these library collections now totals 6.7 million items.


That is a far cry from the initial 4 libraries with 100,000 items.


These libraries circulate 14.5 million items to 800,000 registered library users.


Much has changed over the two decades that the system has operated.  Computers do much more processing work than they were capable of doing in 1988.


At that time, the library handled about 300 requests per month for books that were not available on-the-shelf in our local libraries.


Today, through the computer system, we handle an average of 38,000 requests per month for books and audiovisuals not on our shelves.


That number would be impossible to manage as hand clerical work, only a computer could accommodate that work load.

Much has changed in the library in the last two decades.  The common request in 1988 was another title of a book written by a common author.


Today, the requests are often placed by the library user, and can be a complex question requiring librarian-intervention.


The Internet, databases, and digital archives often yield the information.  A distant library may contain the specific item from their collection, found because of a computer.


The question may be the library’s retrieval of information from a state or federal agency, whose local office has closed, with the library being the providing agency.


Or, it may be a process of digging through paper indexes to find information in a book sitting in the “Stacks” of an archive.


Most librarians will tell you that the most common question that seems to appear in conversation is, “With the Internet is there anything for you folks to do?”


If the Internet is handling people’s information needs, then why are public libraries busier than ever before?


The Internet is providing people with basic information needs, and connectivity to businesses and office information.


The Internet, however, is not a provider of edited information in the same way published information was in the past, so the user must be able to evaluate the information based on source and reliability.


From that comes the need for the library and access to databases, e-books, and other information to assist with an information request.


Beyond that need is the need for the library in our communities.  The need for Internet access, a collection of materials, and a human being to help is emerging as a basic need of the new information age.


Sometimes you need to “browse,” maybe called “roaming” through the book shelves of a library and just see information on a shelf.


Maybe sit down at a computer, or let the kids look at picture books.


Maybe attend a program, or contact a state agency whose office is long gone and closed.


The purpose of a public library is no different than the days that Andrew Carnegie funded 105 libraries just in the State of Ohio.


All that has changed are the tools that we can use to serve the public.