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Public Library of Steubenville and Jefferson County
Serving Jefferson County, Ohio Since 1899
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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.

How do you find that book?

By Alan Hall, Director, PLSJ
Publish Date - Sunday, April 5, 2015

How has the public library located books to fill the requests of our patrons over the years?


Aside from the books on the shelves of a public library, what happens if a library customer would like a specific book that is not owned by our library?


The first documented library in our area was established Sept. 15, 1815 in the back of the drug store owned by Michael Johnston on 3rd St. in Steubenville.


It was a subscription library, open and available to anyone who joined the library and paid 25 cents.  The accumulated monies were then used to purchase books which were then shared by the members of the association.


That library supposedly had 30-45 books, and those titles were all that were available.  That subscription library lasted a few years.


In 1830, Edwin M. Stanton started a circulating library in his home on Market St. and charged 10 cents for the loan of a book from his collection.  In 1845, the Institute of Steubenville began with 42 members and some 450 books which were loaned to members.


The City Library Association of Steubenville was chartered in 1848 and their book collection was available on and off for nearly 50 years before being boxed for storage.  The high school library was opened to the public on occasion through the later 19th Century before Andrew Carnegie funded the library building which opened in 1902.


The common factor with these early libraries was that they offered the “book on the shelf” to the public with no method of obtaining a book not owned by that particular library.


In 1906, the State Library of Ohio established a “Library Development Office” to encourage library services to be established all across Ohio.


By the 1930s, public libraries had been developed in many Ohio counties and requests for books not owned by a local library led to the development of an Interlibrary Loan program which continued for over 50 years.


Multiple-copy paper forms were pounded out on manual typewriters (so the printing would press through the 4 layers of forms) and 3 copies were mailed to the State Library where a “union catalog of library holdings” had been established.  When the book was found, the request was sent directly to that library so the book could be loaned to the requesting library.


When I started in the library profession, this was still being done.  The forms never lined up and if you made a mistake, the whole form had to be discarded.


In 1967, this process was automated with the establishment of the Ohio College Library Center in Columbus, which still exists today and is called simply OCLC, Inc.  Smaller libraries contracted with larger libraries to handle the process, and the request was speeded up dramatically.


Southeastern Ohio was a leader in early development of collection sharing, as we were using “fax machines” as early as 1976 to move information requests among libraries.  In those days, it took 6 minutes per page to fax, longer to receive.  Pages received were literally “burned” onto a receiving sheet, and often people in the library asked if something was “on fire.”  We always responded that no, that was just an incoming fax.


In the 1980s, computer networks were starting to expand around the state to access the growing databases of library collections.  Our library system went online with four other libraries in 1988, a system that today contains 90 library systems with 7 million items.


Anything on the SEO Library System can be requested electronically and will be sent to your local public library.  Books and materials not owned by any library in the system are sent into the OCLC system and those items are also shipped to fill the request.


Five days a week our library system locations receives a delivery from the Cleveland Hub and laundry carts full of books, DVDs, CDs, and whatever stuff has been requested arrive to fill the information needs of our public.


Other requests are filled from online databases, and eBooks are batched into statewide collections that can be accessed from whatever corner of Ohio you reside.


Your local public library remains the foundation of all of these services, as a local library card account is needed to access all of these information sources.