How libraries have (and haven’t) changed

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By: Bob Harris, Director of the Helen M. Plum Memorial Library

Reprinted courtesy of: Bob Harris &

I have been working in libraries for 43 years. I was recently asked about the biggest changes I have seen. I can think of three.

First, technology. When I was a teenager in the ’60s, I had a friend who built a homemade computer in his basement with little metal switches. Yes, really. How things have changed!

We have automated our routine tasks – from checking items in and out, to locating them in the catalog and signing up for programs. Our website provides an electronic “door” to the world and to the library. People can access our electronic resources 24 hours a day from home. And we provide free, unfiltered access to the Internet for whatever people want to do.

Second, training. People used to come to the library to borrow an item and take it home, or to look up a fact in a reference book. Usually the librarian would walk with the person to the card catalog, find the item, and take the person to the shelf where he or she could find what they wanted, or browse. But we didn’t usually show someone how to use the catalog.

Now our electronic resources are much more powerful, complex and tricky to use, so we find ourselves doing training. We have had classes in the past on just how to use a mouse, and currently train people in how to use a Kindle or Nook and how to use our e-resources.

And third, the library is a “third place.” Somewhere that is not home and not work, but a place to go to meet with friends and neighbors, debate the ideas of the day, discuss important books and movies in groups, take classes, hear speakers, work on a project, have coffee or all of the above.

People seem to be more “homebound” today with less need to even leave the house, as we sit in front of a computer terminal all day. There is an increasing need to reconnect with others face to face, and libraries are moving to fill that need.

How have things not changed? Whatever the style of delivery, public libraries have always, at their core, been about one thing – connecting recorded information with people. We provide that link between what you want to enjoy, or the information you need, and you! When you need to know or enjoy, think of your local library, and let us show you what we have to offer.