There’s a place in the world for a library
“So do people still use the public library?”
I understand the question and the implied comment behind it and the assumption that the Internet has completely taken over the Earth and all its people, but the answer is, “Yes, people still use the library.”
The basic mission of most public libraries continues to be a provider of information to the public. That is almost the same mission stated on opening day of our Carnegie Library in 1902.
The difference is the tools that are in the hands of librarians in 2017 when compared to only a few years ago.
I compare the library of Dec. 22, 1970, which was the first day that I actually worked in a public library.
The number of traditional books checked out of the Public Library of Steubenville and Jefferson County in 2016 exceeded 600,000, which has remained stable for the past decade as alternative formats of information has emerged.
The first difference is that a few years ago each public library had a collection of books that they owned and were arranged with access through a card catalog.
Books not owned by the library could be requested by Interlibrary Loan using a four-part carbon copy to mail the request to a central point.
Today, that collection is supplemented by a network of libraries linked through automation that can send the book to the location of the request.
Books not owned by the library are requested through an automated network arriving from the corners of the country to the requester.
eBooks are now filling a public library collection. We have access to more than 300,000 today, with that number expanding daily allowing the public to download about 4,000 per month within our own library system.
Audio-visuals have moved to disc format as well as thousands that can be downloaded from library files through an oddly-named system called Hoopla, just like current magazines that can be accessed by another strange-named system called Flipster.
Your current Good Housekeeping magazine can be found on your Tablet, read by thousands of library users at the same time.
In addition to all of these items, your library card now accesses online databases that contain millions of pages of information assembled for library use.
The one area of the public library that has been impacted the most by new technology is the reference collection, which has mostly been replaced by systems that can be accessed by home and office.
Our own library has invested in the Digital Shoebox to scan and assemble online materials of local and state history, which again is available online. This also saves fragile items for the future so they will always be available for public use.
Then there is “all that stuff” that librarians do today in public libraries from public notary service to obtaining needed documents and paperwork from offices and agencies that formerly had local and state offices.
There are 68 people employed in the seven buildings and Bookmobile that comprise our library system, not to mention the cloud of information that is floating around the county to be retrieved.
And how about all those fiber optic cables that connect these buildings so people can use their laptops and cell phones and tablets?
You can call the library and a human being still answers the phone, or you can e-mail or fax or whatever method you use.
So yes, people still use the public library.
(Hall is director of the Public Library of Steubenville and Jefferson County.)