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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.

Computers at the Library

By Alan Hall, Director, PLSJ
Publish Date - Sunday, March 4, 2018

Most public libraries saw computers of some sort arrive in the late 1970s, although their use was limited to one specific function.


I remember a computer that simply extracted information from a tape cassette, with its major function to perform keyword searching of the 10 thousand characters stored on the cassette.


We knew computers existed in major college libraries, and the State Library of Ohio would send us printouts on tractor-fed paper, showing that a computer was somehow involved.


In Library School in 1976, a physically large computer system was housed in the basement of the university library with a chain link fence protecting it from unapproved use.


No way would these computers ever make it into a small or medium-sized public library, or so I thought.


In 1980, I was part of a tour of the Columbus Metropolitan Library where their new computerized circulation system was featured.


Check-ins and checkouts were all handled by the system, eliminating the tedious paper cards and ink stamping that was always part of library functions.


Oh well, will probably not be affordable to smaller public libraries and will never have the choice of acquiring it.


Well, I arrived at the Public Library of Steubenville and Jefferson County in 1983 to find a plan in place to automate the library through a cooperative of libraries --- but the technology was still short of the actual achievement.


For the next 5 years, five libraries continued the process including our system, Cadiz, St. Clairsville, Barnesville, and Woodsfield libraries achieving success in 1988.


I am proud to announce that the Mechanicsburg Public Library just joined our 30 year-old system last week to bring the total libraries to 93 with about 250 outlets!


The mechanics of the system have been replaced and upgraded several times, and today’s network does so much more than the first system.


By 1995, the Ohio Public Library Information Network was starting to extend Internet service around Ohio with public access computers appearing in all 251 library systems.


The Telecommunications Act of 1996, commonly called E-Rate was established to provide universal service to schools and libraries so that advanced telecommunications could be provided across the nation.


Our library system has taken advantage of the Federal Communications Commission’s $ 2.5 billion annual reimbursement for services.


Locally, our library system spends about $ 70,000 annually for service to our 7 buildings and bookmobile to be online and provide Internet services to the public, supplemented by E-Rate funds.


In the past 5 years, E-Rate funding has shifted from voice communications to Internet systems, but this year is our year for replacement and upgrade of communications equipment and systems.


We are pleased to have access to the E-Rate funding to allow our library system to maintain electronic access for all of our buildings and maintain the necessary equipment.


In the process this year, we are also expanding our Internet speed and capability for the branches at Tiltonsville, Dillonvale, Brilliant, and the Main Library.


The Adena Branch was expanded last year, and the Toronto Branch is in the 3rd year of their 5 year contract.


The State Telecommunications trunk line arrives in our county at the Schiappa Branch and extends to the branches from that location.


Who knew in 1983 that all of this technology would be part of the library system in 2018?