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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.

Library Misconceptions

By Alan Hall, Director, PLSJ
Publish Date - Sunday, March 29, 2015


Last week’s article regarding how Andrew Carnegie does not fund libraries today brought a lot of reaction, and lots of questions about other library misconceptions.


Many years ago when I first started as a librarian, someone asked me “how much I made by dividing up the overdue fines that people pay.”


At first, I didn’t understand what they were asking; but they said to me that at the end of each day, all of us working at the library divided up whatever was collected in overdue fines as our salary for working at the library.


That is not the case, monies collected for overdue fines, payments for lost/damaged books; actually any monies collected by the library are deposited into the General Fund.  Those funds amount to less than one percent of the total operating budget for the library system.


Like all government agencies in Ohio, the library system is subject to regular audits by the State Auditor of Ohio, and those funds are accounted and documented.


The collection of overdue fines is off-set by the fact that it costs money to collect fines and overdue materials in the form of notices and mailings, even with today’s e-mail overdue notices and pre-overdue notices sent by e-mail.


The advent of eBooks and eMagazines that return themselves and are never subject to overdue fines will likely impact those receipts in the future.


The computerization of public libraries has greatly improved the return of overdue library materials, with a constant documentation of check-ins and checkouts and the management of delinquent library card accounts.


Some of us “old-timers” in the library field were recounting the methods that libraries used to use to manage the circulation of books with 3 x 5 cards and massive Rolodex files most of which were inefficient and nearly useless in managing overdue books.


Our library system has been computerized since 1988, and the return of overdue items in ten times improved over the “old days.”


Another comment from years ago brought to my attention how people think we “receive our books for the library.”


A person said to me that the library needed more books in the collection related to mathematics, and I should call the publisher.


As the conversation continued, I realized that she thought that publishers simply send books free to public libraries upon request.


The reality is that our library system expended over $ 250,000 last year for new books, periodicals, and audio-visual materials; which is only half of what was expended 15 years ago.


Our public library receives discounts from various library jobbers, and by direct ordering, but we still have to purchase most of our new materials.


New library materials are selected by five librarians who read professional reviews of newly published items, supplemented by public comments and requests as well as donations from library users wanting to share their own things from their purchases.


Many of those donations are used to replace library copies of books worn from use.  After 25 checkouts, the typical book needs refurbishing or replacement due to wear.


The emerging eBook marketplace eliminates the physical wear and tear over the paper book, but otherwise needs software and hardware maintenance to continue to be offered.  There are also contract limitations place on eResources by some publishers, where the book “goes away” after 26 uses by the library patrons.


Do I think that the magical “Library” that existed on the 1960s television show “Star Trek” with a pleasant voice providing the answer to every question that was posed will ever become reality?  Yes, it probably will, some day.


Just remember that the apparently-free information that is contained within the Internet and computers at our finger tips only looks that way.  The company or organizations that are sponsoring the software and hardware that allows it to operate can fade away with time and money.


Perhaps your public library will be that magical library of the future.