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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.

Do people still use public libraries?

By Alan Hall, Director, PLSJ
Publish Date - Sunday, September 30, 2018


“So, does anyone use public libraries anymore?” was the question asked of me recently.


It is not a surprising question, and certainly a question that librarians have been asked over and over in recent years.


It is a question known to turn librarian’s hair gray --- and of course I have stopped worrying about that result about 20 years ago.


The developments of the Internet, and all the devices since that time that utilize the mechanics of the Internet to answer questions have formed the assumption that “nobody uses public libraries anymore.”


Public libraries have changed over the years, but the basic assumption that a library collection gather for the public good of providing information and general reading remains even with the new technology in this information age.


The first time I worked in a public library, now 48 years ago, time was spent retrieving or assisting the public find books for recreational reading or research.


The author Victoria Holt was the rage of the reader when I began ---- as well as countless other authors’ works.


Journals and periodicals were used for current research, and you hoped that the library’s collection was excellent in form as the ability to “pass information” was limited to requests for other books that were mailed between libraries.


Today, all of those things that librarians wished that we could obtain in 1970 can now be found in some format to be provided to the public.


The traditional “book” remains and is still used by the public.  Actually some half-million books are still checked out of Jefferson County libraries annually.


What differs today is the additional million items that are downloaded, electronically transferred, moved on email, or scanned through your public library.


I call it “stuff” that we provide the public; from public notaries to voter registrations to tax forms and instructions and the myriad of information and forms from local, state, and federal agencies.


It was 1977 when the Ohio Secretary of State suggested that voter registration could be done at local public libraries, and librarians groaned in wonderment at the task being placed on public libraries.


That was followed quickly by tax forms being distributed ---- and we realized that these materials and functions made a lot of sense as public libraries remained open and accessible in the evenings and Saturdays, differing from the host agencies of the information.


Now public libraries accept nearly any task presented to us, or we know who and where to connect for the answer.


In addition, there is over 800 public libraries and branches across Ohio, so what better location for such information services.


The other reason that I am being asked more today is the major construction project and renovation of the Main Library.


I have to explain that all 8 of our library locations are busy, 9 if you count the library website.


Half of Jefferson County residents have active library card accounts, with electronic accounts provided to some school districts.


One morning at the library, a customer commented to me that there were only 2 people using the library, so I went to a computer and showed her that another 37 people were online to using the library at that moment.


Exciting to me are the emails and texts received from all around the nation (and world sometimes) asking for information about our local area.


Your public library system remains in place, serving the public.