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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.

Memories of a Public Library

By Alan Hall, Director, PLSJ
Publish Date - Sunday, July 17, 2016

“So, what exactly do you do now at the Library?”


I knew the person was trying to be nice, and the insertion of the word “now” in the phrase indicated that the individual was aware that I worked at the Library, so the question probably related to today’s impression that public libraries are no longer used much.


The person continued, “You know, with no one using books anymore and everything on the Internet…..”


I began with an explanation of book publishing in 2016.


This year, more books that ever before will be newly published in the world, some estimates exceed 1 million new titles in paper print format.


Self-publishing and print-on-demand are pushing the total produced by main stream publishers to new higher totals.


Libraries continue to check out massive amount of those old-format paper books.  Some people love them and will read only the paper format books, others love eBooks and other online sources, and some use both.


In addition to the 200,000 books in our collection, and the 7 million more available through our database of 92 library systems in Ohio, there are lots of books out there.


Public Libraries today are also full of non-traditional information formats, including eBooks, eMagazines, downloadable movies, and literally millions of pages of online documents and databases.


That little library card now opens an enormous world of information.


But it always has, however the addition of that zebra barcode has really pushed that innocent little library card into a new world of information.


When people share with me their stories of using the public library, their memories often involve a first book they read, a class report done at the library, a class tour of the library, or a library visit to see Frosty’s paper-mache figures.


The public library might be a branch in our county, or a favorite library located in a distant home town.


My favorite library story was shared with me years ago; when a gentleman related an incident that took place in the 1930s.  He loved the library, and had checked out a copy of “Tom Sawyer” only to drop the book in a muddy water puddle.


His mother told him to take the ruined book back to the library and show it to Miss Neidengard, the venerable librarian who graced the Main Library for 34 years.


He described the scowl on her face, and the shock of the water-soaked book covered with mud, and when he explained that he had no money to pay for it, she indicated that perhaps there were some “chores” around the library that could be done.


Miss Neidengard’s face then quickly changed to a subtle smile, and she inquired if he had gotten to read “Tom Sawyer.”


He said that he had read about half of it, and she scurried to the shelf to find another copy so he could finish it --- and be sure to tell her all about the story, when he read it.


What would Miss Neidengard say in 1933 if someone told her that the future library would have 300,000 books floating in a cloud?  Or your favorite magazine would appear magically on this flat thing out of mid-air?


Or you could read books of local history on a little picture screen?  Or that the card catalog of 92 other public libraries in Ohio could be on that same screen so you could see their books?


Gee, the Newark Public Library near Columbus wouldn’t have to ship their mystery books in a box to the Steubenville Library to “swap them” so people could read different titles.


I have watched the changes in technology over my library career, and each step seems a natural progression forward improving the public service and use of our libraries.


I do remember the young librarian standing at the checkout desk of the Columbus Library in 1978, watching Ohio’s first automated library circulation system in operation.  What was lightning speed then would be viewed as “creeping along” now with a computer.


After the demonstration was complete, and the one book was checked out, someone asked how the patron knew when his book was due to be returned?  The librarian proudly smiled as she used an ink stamp to “whap” a messy date on the date due slip.