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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.

48 years ago

By Alan Hall, Director, PLSJ
Publish Date - Sunday, December 16, 2018


Next week it will be 48 years since I first worked in a public library.  I was hired right before Christmas of 1970 and worked two evenings and Saturday every week.


Libraries were different places in those days with paperbound books being the common source of media with some long-playing records, 16mm films, and journals as the options.


I was thinking about days-gone-by last week when the administrative offices received a call that there were several people on sick leave and someone was needed to supplement the staff at the Schiappa Branch that evening.


I was available, and thought it would be great to do the same thing I did years ago; work at the public service desk.


The problem is that my computer account works from the administrative end of the software, and I would need to look over someone’s shoulder until I became refreshed on how the public service end works.


Except for a very long receipt roll at someone’s checkout, things seemed to go well checking in and out books and DVDs, and I was able to answer phone calls.


My thoughts kept going back to 1970 and that first night working at a library.  In those days the only automation was a Gaylord Book Charger machine that stamped the library card number on the book card.


Otherwise it was all paper and pencil.


Barcodes have replaced numbers and scanners read the barcodes, with all the information coming from a mainframe computer a hundred miles away.


In the early days, a librarian had access to about 50,000 books by use of a card catalog ---- today there are 8 million items online in 93 libraries across-the-state.


Billions of pages of information pour out of the computer to answer a myriad of questions posed by thousands of library card holders, and millions of published documents are from around the world.


The trays of book cards and Rollodex files full of 3 x 5 cards have been gone for years (25 years for our library system) replaced by a computer brain.


“Is this book checked out?” in 1970 was answered with “Oh, yes, probably, likely so, I think so, yes” because the secret of the era was that librarians really didn’t know.  If you filled out a request form, I can look.


In 2018 libraries know exactly where the book is located or what collection it is shelved.  The pandemonium of 1970 was when one of those red book clips was found on-the-floor meaning it had popped off a card and would need to be found by searching thousands of the checkout cards.


I was assigned to work in the Local History and Genealogy Dept. for an hour and while I have been involved in that collection for the past 36 years, I was amazed at what now exists compared to years hence.


Today nearly 7,000 items fill the collection compared to perhaps 200 items in the early 1980s.  That is supplemented by microfilm, online systems, and the Digital Shoebox with 85,000 pages of digitized local history and 2,000 online photos.


Things have come a long way since those early days when crumbling books were the only source of local history information.


There was a steady stream of people in and out of the library that evening, in addition to the consul-full of flashing lights showing even more people at home using the library, as well as countless others on their cell phone using the public library.


Yet it is the human interaction that makes the public library different from many of today’s agencies that serve the public.


One person communicating with another person is unique in today’s world, except in a public library; unless you want to have interaction electronically.


This is why I have thoroughly enjoyed the 48 years of librarianship that is behind me.