PLSJC Director Alan Hall writes a weekly column discussing library and community news, history, and other interesting subjects.
It has been almost 40 years since I wrote my first “item” for a newspaper relating to the public library where I worked at that time.
That first little column was a review of the book, “Dove,” written by Robin Lee Graham. The book was the story of the author’s sea journey around the world from 1965-1970, and was also featured in National Geographic Magazine.
The Director of the library where I worked was in panic because during the summer librarians were on vacation and somehow one of weekly book review columns was going to be missed unless an emergency fill-in could be found.
I was standing innocently at the circulation desk, a young lad with all-brown hair, when the Director said to me, “so what are you reading?”
I said “Dove” and I was immediately tagged to write a book review column for the local newspaper which had to be hand delivered the next day to the Editor’s Desk since it was late already.
Using my finest writing skills, I assembled the review and column that evening and delivered it to the newspaper as requested. I decided not to tell my parents in case the book review was so bad that they tossed it away.
On Saturday, I heard my mother shriek with delight (and shock) and she said, “You wrote the library column this week?”
I beamed with pride as everyone in the household read the book review aloud, except my brother who muttered something about who wants to “read that dumb thing anyway!”
College got in the way of further writings until I arrived as the Head Librarian of my first public library and was told that I had to write a lengthy column for the newspaper including new book titles.
Looking at previous columns, the text lumbered along providing new book titles in a sort of text-style, providing the reader with the excitement of watching paint dry.
I asked if the newspaper would accept simply a list of new books and stuff, and was told “No.”
So, I produced a booklist surrounded by chit-chat; but also did a list of books so people could find the books when at the library.
It slowly evolved into stories about the library, where I tried to interest people in their public library by opening the services to the public.
When I arrived here in 1983, there was already a list of books in the newspaper so my “column” didn’t have the actually list the titles within the text. The style has changed with time, but I confess that I enjoy spreading the word of the library’s services hoping that people will be excited to use their local library.
I have learned not to panic library staff by asking Monday what everyone thought of this week’s article. Some people read it, some don’t.
Without a doubt, the most popular columns relate to local history and events. The least popular are ones that ramble on about library philosophy and things important only to librarians.
Looking at the evolution of my column, library funding has become more apparent in writings of the last 5 years particularly since all of the state funding changes of 2009.
Library automation, and the adaptation of computer services to public libraries, is more commonly discussed today for obvious reasons.
What I really enjoy is meeting someone I do not know, and having them tell me about their favorite column or subject, or the fact they began using the library because of my column.
That means that my writing has been successful in connecting the public library with its users, the public that is meant to be served by the library system.