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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.

Our Public Library Usage Has Increased Over Past Decade

By Alan Hall, Director, PLSJ
Publish Date - Sunday, February 19, 2006

Usage of our public library system has increased 25 percent over the past decade. During those 10 years, the Internet has developed as a major tool in the communication of information worldwide.

Those two statements appear to be in conflict with each other. Actually, no, it is a common myth that the Internet will replace the Library as a source of information. What is happening is that the demand and need for information is growing more rapidly that either the Internet or the Library.

In the past decade, the number of library cards issued by our county system has remained stable at about 40,000. These are active library cards.  If you don't use your card, the system will delete it from inactivity. Usage of the library system has increased for traditional services of the checkout of things from the library's services. Usage of the library system's non-traditional services has increased many times over, as they didn't exist in 1995.

Our electronic catalog, available in the library and from home computers, averages 3,000 hits per day. The Digital Shoebox of local history information has 35,000 searches done per month. Online databases from our web site account for more than 200,000 searches per year. Several hundred people download e-books from our system, a major increase from the first month of operations when 22 people downloaded.

Each week, we average 2,200 questions asked at our library's desks about every topic under the sun.People are still amazed at what can be found at the library, and using the electronic resources of the library. I am still amazed at what can be found, much due to the new electronic tools at the hands of the modern public library.

At one time, you could search the card catalog of the Main Library and locate books in the collection of 40,000 items. If you wanted something else, we could "type" out a request and send it by telefax to regional libraries and within "some time" the book would arrive.

Today, we search 5.2 million items on the shared system and punch a button to request the item be sent by daily delivery service. We can peek into the words on a printed page, and find the phrase that you want, print the page or e-mail it to your account. Librarians don't get the easy questions any more; like what other books were written by Danielle Steel. We get the complex questions, or ones that the search strategy on the Internet has not yielded the desired hits.

On the shelf in my office is the book, "Our Old Home" by Nathaniel Hawthorne, published by Houghton Mifflin in 1889. It was one of the books in the original collection of the Carnegie Library when it opened in 1902. If that book could peek out into 2006, what would it say about the library today?