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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.

Statistics for the Library

By Alan Hall, Director, PLSJ
Publish Date - Sunday, March 26, 2017

Counting statistics for a library used to be a fairly concise and easy process.  Library training textbooks had multiple chapters on how to count this and that in your library.


A 1930s textbook even had a pen & ink drawing of the dutiful librarian sitting at a desk with a lamp extended over the pile of cards as she carefully counted and recorded each total.


In my first library job, I was fascinated with an elderly lady who appeared each morning and spent 3 hours totaling all the library transactions for the previous day and week.


She was given a large oak library table under a strong light complete with a large library statistics binder and several sharpened pencils to record each transaction.


Hash marks were made to count various reference questions asked by the public, and a mechanical counter recorded books used in the library but not checked out.


As computers began to invade the library environment, some tabulations began to be recorded automatically.


Door counters were popular, telling how many people entered the library on a given day, ruined by a delighted child running back and forth fascinated by the clicking sound of the counter, which ruined the count-for-the-day.


And now there is the 21st Century, and public libraries are still checking out books to people but have added a myriad of new ways of providing information to the public which would confuse the dutiful librarian of 1950.


Those paperbound books that libraries still check out are counted by an online system and tell when the time-of-day they were checked out and a whole lot of information about how/what/where these books were circulated.


People are using the online system from home and office, as well as those smart phones that everyone has, as requests are made online.


There is a whole new collection of eBooks and eMagazines that people download to their devices, and they all need counted.


Online databases provided by the library system are accessed in-house and externally and they produce statistics from who downloads at 3 am or at which branch location.


How many photocopies, scans, public computer uses, and faxes are produced or sent every day?


How many are received?  How about the out-of-state inquiries for local history information and what is scanned and sent to their email?


How about the endless phone calls, faxes, in-person questions that our libraries receive every day?


Or the computer questions, or questions about how to use the Internet, or a non-functioning cell phone or Windows 10 problem?


The number of Public Notary questions and requests to Notarize something, or tax forms, or voter registration?


Or how about the people who just ask if we know something, or know where to go to find something?


It’s your public library, and I don’t know how to count all of these things!


But that is okay with me and the 68 employees of the Public Library of Steubenville and Jefferson County because that’s why we are here, and why you library system is here.


The Public Library has modified in the past few years as technology has provided new tools and products to access and provide information.


It is exciting to see all of the new sources available to the library, and the shared resources that are now provided by networking and linking done by today’s library.


As a librarian told me in the early days of computers; “I wish I could push one button and obtain all the statistics about my library.”


Well, we aren’t there yet, but that dutiful librarian isn’t at her oak table anymore either.