PLSJC Director Alan Hall writes a weekly column discussing library and community news, history, and other interesting subjects.
The month of June marked my 30th year as Director of the Public Library of Steubenville and Jefferson County.
Of the 66 current staff members of the library system, only one was working for the library back in 1983 when I started.
During the past month, several staff members asked me what it “was like” 30 years ago at the library and how things have changed within that time period.
I initially said that the staff in 1983 was “older” than the current staff, until I did the math and found out that they were the same age that I am now.
Age is all relative to what you compare it to now.
Without a question, the number one difference is technology and computers. 30 years ago, there was not one computer, or even anything that appeared to be a computer in the library system.
Endless trays of cards were used in the checkout process, and card catalogs abounded as the access guide to the library collection.
Book requests took 4-6 weeks to process, and long searches were involved to locate information and answer questions.
There were hints of technology, a 1976 telefax machine chugged along taking 6 minutes to transmit one page of data. Computer printouts arrived in the mail from central processing centers, and some catalog cards were printed on huge Xerox spin systems.
But, our library system had branches without telephones and no union catalog of our entire system holdings.
The 1980s brought rapid change as computer systems began to spread across Ohio Libraries, connecting libraries large and small to central delivery systems.
Data was slowly converted into machine-readable formats, and made available to libraries and then the public in general.
Libraries began to change with the availability of new technologies, yet the primary purpose of service to the public and information transmission didn’t change.
Over these 30 years (or 40 years if I include my whole time of working in libraries) I have worked with scores of delightful people who enjoy serving the public in librarianship.
Everyone’s goal has been to provide the best library services to library users, and every day has been a new adventure.
The Library Board had several goals for the library system in 1983 including computerization and the establishment of a “West End Library.” Those goals have been achieved, and we are moving on to new horizons involving information in the “cloud” and library access on a smart phone.
Along the way, we achieved a new library in Toronto and Dillonvale, and renovated buildings in Adena, Tiltonsville, and Brilliant, not to mention restoration work on the beloved Carnegie Building.
The public supported the library system in 2010 when the State cut funds to the library, and our first library levy was approved by county voters.
Still, it is the memorable moments that make librarianship a special career. During the Levy campaign, I heard the story of a little girl who learned to read by using the public library to select books about travel to different countries of the world.
She would tell the librarian a little about each adventure when she returned the latest book in her reading. Because of her improved reading, she attended college and became an English teacher, providing 40 years of students with her gifts.
That little girl was now 74 years old and retired, yet still a library user and still taking those trips through a book, except now she downloads eBooks from the library collection onto her Kindle.
It is never too late to start a library habit.