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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.

Requesting Library Materials Online

By Alan Hall, Director, PLSJ
Publish Date - Sunday, October 21, 2012

On any given weekday within our library system, a delivery service arrives with an average of 750 items that had been requested by some library user.


Some are requested by the library staff answering a customer’s request or question, and others are requested online directly by a library user.


One day last week I was standing at the sorting area looking at what people request, trying to see the pattern of requests, attempting to get a “feel” for what things the library should acquire to meet the needs of our library users.


My attempt was a failure as I looked at the assortment of things getting their tags so that someone could be contacted and told that “their item has arrived.”


Some people already know that the book they requested has arrived, as their online accounts have already told them.


Others ask because they can guess how long the delivery services take to bring their item to their local library.


Still other items are simply returning from hither and yon where they have filled a request in Findlay, Wilmington, or Ada, Ohio.


But back to my question of what people request from the library.  I could see best-sellers, and children’s books, DVDs of entertainment and nonfiction.


Old books, new books, technical books and romances, envelops with documents obtained from the State Library’s state and federal documents department, to mention only a few!


What if I sorted these things into piles of similar things, or at least put the fiction together?


Aside from the fact that the staff sorting wouldn’t be happy, there is no rhyme nor reason for what information needs people have asked their local library?


The banding together of public libraries is one way of sharing library collections, and providing people with the broadest array of materials to meet those needs.


In addition, the whole array of online databases and document delivery systems provides access to things that are beyond the array of a normal bound book in paper edition.


Recently, with the upgrade of the shared computer system, several additional libraries have joined the system and their holdings are being blended into the database increasing the number of items to well over 6.5 million items.


We are approaching 90 library systems in the system, recently adding Napoleon Public Library and McComb Public Library from northwestern Ohio.


While public libraries usually have collections of some similarity, unique items do appear every time a new library joins online.


We also extend beyond our own system to locate titles and information from academic libraries nationwide, and are often successful.


It is mindboggling to me to realize how far we have advanced in a short period of time in library history.


I am remember a visit to the State Library of Ohio in 1973 and being shown the “Union Catalog” of titles, which was the early effort to share books statewide by having libraries send one paper card of their fiction titles to a card catalog in Columbus.


The poor librarian was sitting on a high stool, with a desk light hanging over a huge old oak card catalog with a mass of drawers, using a red pencil to circle the correct library code on the cards to designate ownership.


In the short span of 40 years, that catalog has been converted to an online system that can be accessed from any location.


One of those books may be arriving at your library any day, and if you look carefully, the red circle may still be visible.