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Ideally, technologies are tools

December 28, 2015

I was disappointed in myself for answering the phone—a friend was wishing me well on my retirement when the phone started ringing and buzzing in my pocket. We’d had friends and family in the hospital, and another friend had just died, and the days seemed charged with urgency.

Rarely is anything more urgent than attending to the people in front of me, but I answered the call, anyway. I’ve yet to learn to live gracefully with the cell phone.

But the same could be said for an older technology—the book. I was well into adulthood before I could write in a book; I couldn’t even inscribe one to a friend. Yet when I look at L’s collection of annotated volumes, I grow wistful about the lost phrases and beautiful passages that passed unmarked, never to be found again.

Ideally, technologies are tools to be wielded toward our chosen ends. They serve us, not us them. When I think of the technological changes at the library over the last two decades, it’s hard to get too nostalgic.

Our card catalog was a fine thing but no competition against our online library catalog, no matter its imperfections.

We first automated the library in 1999, outsourcing the “retrospective conversion” of our card catalog to a digital database. Along with this, we ordered pre-assigned barcode labels with book titles printed on them.

Then, a host of volunteers answered the call for help, and we closed for two days while everyone took their assigned sheets of barcodes, found the items they belonged to, and carefully applied them to over 24,000 items (our collection is triple that now). It was a great success and perhaps the quietest two days in library history as dozens of people pored over their work.

Just two year’s later, we migrated to another system—our first consortium of libraries sharing a system more sophisticated than we could have afforded or operated on our own. This carried us ten more years to the end of 2011, when we migrated again to the Marmot Library Network and the system you know and love. At least, I hope you do.

As quoted here before: Luxury becomes the new norm. Compare 1998, when you had to wait your turn if two people were already using our card catalog, to today, when any number of people can access our catalog from anywhere, as well as place requests for items from a network of libraries holding over 30 million items.

And that’s not all! Requested items show up via statewide library courier with your names on them, so to speak. In fact, they have a courier code on them, but we scan them, and put them on the hold shelf. You get an email saying your stuff is here. You can even sign up to receive text messages.

Over these years, the library’s computer offerings have evolved, including the library’s network of computers for the public and the provision of open WiFi internet access. There were complications and issues along the way, but it’s all pretty well integrated into library life now.

Ebooks and e-audiobooks are the norm. Even our local history archives and old newspapers are being digitized, making them more accessible.

And … printed books have not gone away. This combination of technologies holds great promise in my eyes, and I look forward to enjoying it all as a library patron—from the other side of the desk.

So, we come to the end of this column, faithfully published by the Mountain Mail for over 15 years. It’s been a pleasure. Thanks for reading.


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One Comment
  1. Jeff, congrats on the retirement. I will miss the weekly blogs (really I will!).

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