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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.

Counting Library Statistics

By Alan Hall, Director, PLSJ
Publish Date - Sunday, March 17, 2013

Her name was Miss Mead, and she worked in the library where I started my career 43 years ago.


She worked from 9 am until Noon every weekday, and sometimes an afternoon here and there; and her sole purpose was the maintenance of statistics for the library system.


The rumor was that she had worked on the Bookmobile and a couple of the branch libraries over the years, and was now reducing her work hours.


She began by counting the checkouts for the previous day at the Main Library, and adding reports sent by the branches to develop the monthly “circulation report” of books checked out of the libraries.


Her work was performed at a small table in a corner with an old desk lamp rigged to hang down over the work space; complete with a manual adding machine, the kind with a handle that you pulled down to register the entry.


Electric adding machines had long been in use even then, but supposedly the work space had no access to an electrical plug and Miss Mead liked her old manual machine.


If you passed the area when she was working, the instructions were that nothing was to be said as she was deeply involved in “numbers.”


Chick-a, chick-a, zich, zich was the sound of the old machine as it counted the book checkout information; her glasses poised on the end of her nose.


Statistical gathering in the library has certainly changed over this fairly short time period.  No more manual adding machines, or daily counting, and the space that Miss Mead occupied has been completely renovated and couldn’t be found in that building today.


Of course, computers have assumed those counting tasks that used to occupy endless hours of librarian’s time in days past.


Our computer system was upgraded last year, and the annual statistics are gathered on the “Director’s Station,” software that gathers data and assembles it into the requested format.


The longest part of the process is assembling the parameters for the needed report, then “click” and millions of bytes of data are assembled in a flash.


Our library system has 34,728 active library card holders using the various information sources from the standard book checkout to the downloading of an e-Book at home.


An increasing amount of library work is done in cyberspace without ever darkening the door of one of our library locations.


Our library collection remains heavily print media, with over 200,000 books in our collections.  About 30,000 items are DVDs and Books on CD, with some older media of videocassettes and books on tape still existing in the collection.


We share ownership in about 150,000 e-Books that can be downloaded by library users from databases, in addition to over 400 online databases available with your library card.


Last year, our staff handled nearly a half million items that had been requested by library users, and arrived in the daily delivery system at all of our locations.


Fiberglass laundry carts and the famous “blue boxes” yield all kinds of items that people have electronically requested from the 90 library systems in our computer network.


Our library system has 135 public computers in the 7 buildings that we operate, and there are days we could use twice as many to meet the demand.


We employee 65 people to staff those locations; which is a dozen fewer than 12 years ago before all of the automation.


All of our library locations are busy serving the public in many more ways than a generation ago when we were only a place to check out books.


We have become the local office for all of the local, state, and federal agencies who have closed and placed their services online.


What would poor Miss Mead do today at her little desk?  One load of printouts and a couple of zip drives on that desk, and she would probably retire permanently.