Public Library of Steubenville and Jefferson County | Home
June 16, 2019 | Branch Locations | Contact Us
Public Library of Steubenville and Jefferson County
Serving Jefferson County, Ohio Since 1899
Find us on Instagram
Pay Fines/Make a Donation My Account

Director's Column

PLSJC Director Alan Hall writes a weekly column discussing library and community news, history, and other interesting subjects.

Information moving through the ages

By Alan Hall, Director, PLSJ
Publish Date - Sunday, June 12, 2016

Public libraries have long been involved in the movement and storage of information.  That development mirrors society, and the needs of the public for information.


The early history of our nation demonstrated the need for the movement of information.  In the colonial days, written letters often moved around the 13 colonies by horseback riders, or letters could be left at a local pub and moved to another town by someone “going that direction.”


The Postal Service formalized the process and for decades was the prime mover of information from individuals as well as published newspapers and journals.


When the Continental Congress wanted people to learn about its actions, formal posters and publications were sent around the colonies.


Libraries for public use began in the colonies to serve as a gathering point for the published books and papers of the era, a place to share information with the new nation.


By the 19th century, libraries were placing books on the shelves and giving them a chronological number.  That system worked until the library reached a larger size, and various subjects were not together.


Melvil Dewey introduced his system to libraries in 1876 to organize books by tables of information, allowing specific books to be added and removed without disrupting the collection.


Larger libraries became archives of information, finding a way to preserve information for the future to retain our past.


As we approached the 20th century, little did libraries know of the information revolution that was about to envelop the world and change the way we handle information.


The telephone and telegraph of the previous century started moving information faster than ever before and introduced technology to information movement.


In 1911, the Tabulating Machine Co., the International Recording Company, and the Computing Scale Company merged to form the Computing-Tabulating-Recording Company.


This was the first time an effort was made to “automate” data and information, and the company changed its name again in 1924 to International Business Machines, IBM.


At the same time, libraries were making an effort to catalog and index information, so that the public could locate and share information.


Numerous state and federal agencies were working on assembling library collections.  In Ohio, the Union Catalog was a card-based system that identified the books held in various libraries in the state.


World War II provided the technology for microfilm and the first large-scale computer installation at Harvard University, with plans for the use of computers and stored programming.


1967 saw the first computer-based system, located in Columbus, to identify and catalog library collections.


Methods of data transmission made the movement of information a reality in the 1980s, and the World Wide Web’s introduction allowed libraries to move information to satisfy the demand.


Our library system is approaching 30 years of automated data transmission, which has been refined to allow the public to directly access the library collection.


Online databases and eBooks have been added to the library collection, and we are on the verge of adding over a half million online downloads for the public.


Consider what has happened within one generation regarding information transmission!


Today we have more information available to us than ever before, and that information moves around the world at lightning speed.


The organization of much of that information continues to be the responsibility of archives, academic and public libraries.


Your public library system is part of a network of 92 library systems in Ohio, with over 7 million items in the database.  Access to online databases through the Ohio Public Library Information Network and OHIONET bring millions of data holdings for public use.


eBooks, eMagazines, and many downloadable formats are now accessible at with your library card.


And, yes, you can still visit one of our seven public library buildings or the bookmobile that operate in Jefferson County, and speak to a human being.