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Libraries then and now

We walk through the library doors, and some things never change. We see a circulation desk and we see books on shelves. Depending on how old we are, though, pretty much nothing else is the same other than the fact that most of us always loved being in libraries.

We can start with how we find things in the library. When I was doing research for high school debate, I spent a great deal of time at the Kent State University library. Card catalogs were the research tool to see what the library had. We literally thumbed through them – it was a ton of work, but I cannot imagine how much work it was creating and keeping those cards in order. Let’s face it, if the card catalog was messed up, books might literally be lost in those stacks forever. I’m sure they had a way to know, but it couldn’t have been easy. We all learned the Dewey Decimal System.

What I often found through the card catalogs was information that I needed was contained on microfiche. Microfiche was, for the uninitiated (which is most people now), something that looked like film. To view it, we had to load it onto a microfiche reader and slowly spin through it frame by frame to find the information needed. Remember, there were no cell phones to take a picture of anything. We could pay to print some pages if we really wanted them. Or go really old school which was most of the time and take pen and paper and copy information and carefully copy the exact source of that information. In addition to information for debate, this is how I got information for research papers. (Microfiche still exists, by the way, mostly in academic libraries and lots is becoming digitized.)

Now, this isn’t just a story about walking ten miles in deep snow to school uphill both ways. There was an upside to this. Kent State like all libraries had limited space, no room to store junk. When I found information, it might very well have a slant to it which I was responsible for knowing, but it wasn’t just absolute garbage which the internet is loaded with. Half a million hits on your search is not the good thing you might imagine if only 100 of those 500,000 sources is of value. And it was sort of a Zen exercise that one could lose oneself in, thinking of nothing but the task. It was full of aha! moments made richer by the chore of the find.

But what’s the same then and now? Librarians. When I was stuck, I found a librarian who helped me. They are a determined lot and do not abandon us until we are all set with what we need.

What do we see now that we didn’t see then in libraries? We see computers and people using them. Libraries guarantee access to information. Not every home has a computer and internet not to mention everyone’s can go haywire. Information isn’t just for where the elite meet. Information is for everyone. We can locate information in the library, order it reserved for us, literally download it to our phones, from anywhere. That is truly an advance and no romantic notion of microfiche can trump that.

We find conference rooms, comfortable furniture, quiet space to read or work, and a community room for all kinds of activities.

What we don’t have now that we had before are librarians telling us to be quiet. If we need quiet, we have the quiet room, and we can choose quieter library times. But we don’t shush each other up which is really great.

Story hour, Mah Jongg, book club, movie nights, speakers, teen, tween, and children’s activities – the library encourages community activity.

I’m sure each of you can think of many differences between now and then (whenever then was for you). But I’m guessing the two consistent things are librarians help us out and libraries are great places to be. We have incredible resources as always for free.

Don’t forget that we have the book discussion on March 10 of The Women of the Copper Country, the Michigan Reads book this year. (I’ve read it. It’s worth the time.) See the library’s FB or website for details – or ask a librarian.

See you at the Library!

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