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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.

Libraries Transform

By Alan Hall, Director, PLSJ
Publish Date - Sunday, March 6, 2016

“Libraries Transform” is a new awareness campaign of the American Library Association being told through the telling and retelling of the library story.


We will be telling the story of how libraries today are “essential” to our society, how our library professionals are energized for the new era of libraries, and we inform the external decision makers on the local, state, and federal levels.


It is the story of libraries transforming and emerging in the information age to address the changing needs of our users.


The key message is that libraries today are less about what they have for people and more about what they do for people.


Public libraries emerged early in our nation’s history as a place for books to gather, and for people to gather in the Lyceum movement.


The earliest Ohio Libraries were places for information to be assembled and shared with people on the frontier.


Every other Saturday Steubenville residents assembled in the back of a drug store on 3rd Street to share the books that were gathered within the subscription library.


It became more formalized when young Edwin M. Stanton shared books in the 1830s.


Various library associations were formed in the 19th century to meet the public’s needs prior to the formal public library funded by Andrew Carnegie in 1899.


Throughout the 20th century the public library as an institution expanded with branches and bookmobiles as the population shifted, and union catalogs made the available books more accessible to the largest number of people.


Now libraries are shifting to the myriad of new information sources and making them available to the public through the library card, accessible from home and office.


Social media is transforming book clubs and reading interest groups into online sharing units.


Card catalogs have been transformed to something that can be used in a smart phone, and chatting with a librarian has moved to a new format.


How is a library different from Google?  Do people still read books?  Do people even need to read?


Librarians are famous for being organized counters of things.  We found a number of ways of counting books, and people using books, and what books people wanted to read.


Librarians were initially stymied as new types of things appeared in libraries, and how they needed counted.


In 1983, my year-end report was completed by the 10th of January, and was one page.  Today, the computers are still tabulating data and the report isn’t due to the State Library of Ohio until late March because of the time needed for all the different counting that must be gathered.


Categories are hard to compare today, and it is more difficult to draw conclusions.


We have one new category of data that makes it appear that we have a new library location, called the eBook Branch Library which has become our 4th largest location in the county.


It has no staff, no building, and requires little maintenance.


There are also lists of databases that provide information to people who don’t even come to a physical library.


And then there are all the things we do that have been assigned to public libraries because the local, state, or federal office has disappeared over the last decade or so – from tax forms, to paperwork, to public notary service.


Recently, a friend asked me how things were at the library, and probably expected a simple answer but instead received a long blithering essay from me.


Sorry, but I so enjoy our transforming role at the library that I will probably tell you all about i