PLSJC Director Alan Hall writes a weekly column discussing library and community news, history, and other interesting subjects.
The library system has just completed its 106th year of operation. If you count all the previous libraries that existed, it has been 190 years since the first subscription library was established in our area.
Again, it appears that when all the statistics are counted, 2005 will be another record year for usage of the Public Library of Steubenville and Jefferson County. We have exceeded 800,000 items checked out of the libraries every year in our new century, and the total keeps topping the year before.
Add to that number of "traditional library uses," all of the new ways that we are counting people using their library. Lots of people checkout e-books and e-audio books without ever stepping foot in the library. They simply download them from our library web site. More people search the various library databases online, and request things from the library collections from their home computer.
The library has become a state office by default. People come to the library to obtain forms and information formerly provided by other state and local offices that either don't exist or don't provide the information due to reduced staffs. And speaking of staff, the library system is operating with 15 percent less staff than in 2001, the same as many government agencies today.
In 2005, Ohio's public libraries avoided a budget cut by the Legislature at the very last minute; yet continue to operate on less money than we had in 2001. Ohio's libraries continue to try to answer the question of state lawmakers, "Why are libraries in the state budget?" "Because you repealed our local tax in 1985, and replaced it with a portion of the state income tax" is the answer.
History fades, memories disappear, and re-education is ongoing. The Local Government Funding Committee has started work to review all of the local governments that are in the state budget, and my hope for 2006 is that an answer will be forthcoming to solve the budget problem.
Libraries seem to be the "last door with the last desk" for the public. State and local offices have disappeared or been reduced, and the public library assumes the information void. The Internet is viewed as a cheap solution to all the budget problems and information needs of the public. The Internet is a wonderful tool with great resources, but its customer service aspect is not even worth discussing.
In 2005, I kept a scorecard for each time I contacted a company or service using the "contact" button on their web page. Of the 17 contacts I made, I received responses from only two. The remaining 15 needed phone calls or written communication to get a response. I asked those 15 where my "contact" had gone, and it seemed to be in that "black hole" of the Internet that no one can find.
I am delighted that the public continues to use our public libraries, and that we provide a service necessary for society. I maintain a shelf of orphan books in my office. They are old, worn, and some quite tattered. I repair them so they will stand upright and proud on the shelf. They remind me that in 190 years, libraries have not changed. What have changed are the tools and resources that we have to serve you.