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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.

Delivery System to Libraries

By Alan Hall, Director, PLSJ
Publish Date - Sunday, December 9, 2012

“Cargo is here” is exclaimed every weekday at the library.


It usually arrives before noon, and its arrival signals that it is time to shift gears and begin checking in all of the “stuff” that arrives in canvas bags and packaged mailers, loaded into blue cardboard trays for shipping.


Ohio’s public libraries move requested materials from our collections around the state in a complex delivery system contracted by the State Library of Ohio.  The system includes any library location that the local library system contracts and pays for the service.


The network of trucks and warehouses is with a private company that sorts and delivers 5 days per weeks.  Most of our deliveries arrive after being sorted during the night at the Cleveland Terminal.


This whole process started in 1977 when a State Library van started moving a few items around Southeastern Ohio twice a week, just among the Main Libraries of the region.


Our library had an early fax machine that allowed the Regional Library to send a list of book requests around to the 14 counties of the region.  We looked in our card catalog, and then called the 800 number and reported which titles we owned to loan.


Those books were bagged up, and “put on the hook” for the van driver, and off-they-went to the library who had requested them.


That system moved along, and we felt we were on the cutting edge of technology and library services!


Computer were making an appearance in libraries in the 1970s and Ohio was (and still is) the home to the largest library database in the world, OCLC, Inc. in Columbus.


The larger Ohio libraries were imputing information about their collections into OCLC, and by 1989 our library system joined the State Library’s SEO Center for automation.


Now we could “see” what libraries in Cadiz, St. Clairsville, Barnesville, and Woodsfield owned, but there was no button to push to send the request on its way.


Quickly, more libraries joined the database to the point that there are now over 90 library systems in the SEO database with a whole bunch of stuff.  (I have quit trying to keep up-to-date on the number of items)


The really big change came in 1998 when we opened the system to allow the public to use it and see the collections, rather than the staff being the users of the computers.


By the new century, the public was online from home doing their own searching and placing their own requests for anything owned by any library in the system.


Now, we have to hurry and get things checked in and ready, as our customers even know when something is in transit and ready to be picked up.


Add to this all of the new eResources that the library owns that “float around in cyberspace” just waiting for someone to download it, and gee whiz, even I am shocked by the new technology.


It is a wonderful use of public resources to have all of the holdings of our libraries available for use by nearly ¾ of a million people across the state.


When I think about what we did a short 30 years ago; get the fax that took 6 minutes per sheet to receive, look on the shelves, call Mildred on the 800 number, exchange weather information, put the book in the bag on the hook, and send it on the van.


The same process at the other end, as that library gets the book to the requester, and it is all done and the fellow has his book.


It has all changed, well except we still have hooks for the bags, and if we talk to someone in person, we still inquire about the weather.


The new computer system now manages 90 library systems, with 215 locations, and 1,750 computers and 750,000 customers with checkouts that exceed 14 million per year.  All in 30 years.