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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.

The Library's Automation System - History

By Alan Hall, Director, PLSJ
Publish Date - Sunday, May 26, 2013

Recently, the User’s Group of our automation system held its annual meeting to discuss the future plans for the system, and hold workshops and classes regarding new system options.


The event was attended by nearly 300 library staffers, representing the 89 Ohio library systems in the automation system with 201 library buildings in 46 of Ohio’s counties.


The database now contains over 7 million holdings and over a half million library users that can request any item to be delivered to their “home library.”


That is a far cry from the four libraries that initiated the system in 1988; being libraries in Woodsfield, St. Clairsville, Cadiz, and yes, Steubenville.


In 1983, I was the new Library Director here, and received a phone call regarding a meeting to be held at the St. Clairsville Library for people interested in linking together an automation system.


Following that meeting of about 10 librarians, the 4 interested libraries sent letters to the State Library of Ohio expressing interest in joining together to automate our libraries, 1980s – style.


It took five years of “figuring” to see if it could actually be done, and if the cost made sense, and whether it would benefit our library users.


By 1988, we were ready to do the first “tape load” into the main frame computers located in Caldwell at the State Library’s Southeast Center.  Telephone circuits were “live” to accept the binary code data, and away we went into the world of computer automation.


The Barnesville Library quickly showed interest, and we squeezed them into the system, and it was then full!


It was another five years before other libraries expressed interest in this newfangled computer network, and then slowly one after another joined the SEO Library Center automation system.


We can’t meet around the table in St. Clairsville anymore, now it is a 2-day event.


The card catalogs were replaced in 1993, and now the system will accommodate a Facebook App which allows Smart phones and Tablets to access the database and work online requesting materials and e-books.


The meeting reviewed the latest changes and upgrades to the system, including a June upgrade that will take place during the night, a first for the system.


The latest technology involves the use of a “blue cloud” to move information with the use of Broadband services that are appearing across Ohio.


In addition to the 7 million paperbound items and disc media, the system contains 50,000 items that exist only as online bits and pieces of data in the form of e-books.  This number will certainly grow quickly as time passes.


It is amazing that in only one generation, the technology and services has moved from a primitive system of paper cards to online data transfer with hand-held devices.


On the wall in my office hangs a 1938 card-sorter from a bygone era and my desk drawer has a bone depressor and period pick for books.  Someday, someone won’t know what they are, and will toss them away.


We also have a Gaylord Book Charger in the store room, some floppy drives, and computer mouses that won’t connect to a USB port.  Even early generations of computer equipment are obsolete.


No need to purchase service contracts on new computer equipment, as it is obsolete when you begin to use it.


Back to the User’s Group, I sat at a table with some folks from the Logan County District Library in Bellefontaine, one of the new libraries added to the automation system.


One of the librarians commented, “Oh, you are from Steubenville, one of the first libraries in the system!”  I responded yes, and said that I am also the only person remaining from those first four libraries still working.


All the libraries joining today have used local computer systems, but the cost of those systems and the lack of connectivity to a database is a disadvantage in today’s era.


If we look forward as far as we look back, I wonder what the automation system will look like in 2038.