Bibliophiles alert: new dawn on library horizon
It was the scent and the touch that first enticed me with libraries. The aroma of paper and ink, the feel of hard bound books, some textured and with raised letters. Card catalogues in dark oak cabinets in sometimes dusty, sometimes musty rooms. My first library card was burnt orange with rounded edges and my name typed in bumpy black capital letters on a creaky manual. Dorchester County librarians Jennie Redmond and Rebecca Westfall have their nostalgic moments too. They shared some with me before outlining the innovative technology coming to our libraries soon.
Jennie, deputy director, based in St. George, remembers the debut of online catalogues as a “huge professional day. I immediately tossed out all the 3x5 cards (keeping one hard list copy).” She also told me that wherever she worked she didn’t let anybody else open new books. “That’s always been like Christmas for me every time, and I get to see them first!” She recalls going to the library with her sister, getting 10 or 15 books and sitting down to read them all while her sister was still choosing. “So then I’d go back in and check out more!”
Rebecca, branch manager in Summerville, was a multiple reader too. “I’d love to go the library and stack up as many books as I could take home every week.” She also remembers the onset of the online catalogue – which her pre-teen daughter taught Rebecca to use. “And that was before I even started working as a librarian. But it was something I always thought I’d enjoy doing.”
The new technology – called RFID, Radio Frequency Identification – is now in the process of an installation that is expected to take from three to six months. RFID will speed up not only the check out process, but returning and reshelving materials, as well as increasing traffic safety and best of all, freeing library staff to be more interactive and better serve patrons.
Jennie explained that books as well as audio visual materials will be tagged with the new technology in which the bar code is embedded on the back into a smart tag. This will lead to automatic (and multiple) check out, although there will still be staffed check out desks for those who need help. Patrons will be able to pay fines with debit and credit cards. Other changes include new security gates and the elimination of outside book drops which will be replaced with an automatic materials handler. In Summerville this will greatly alleviate parking lot traffic and safety concerns.
This new system as well as the advent of e-readers and mobile devices has changed methods, Jennie says, “but we can bemoan that – or look at it as a challenge, stay relevant and continue to serve.” This includes job services like teaching citizens to use e-readers and accessing book and music collections. Such classes are held In Summerville on Thursdays from 2-5 pm. In addition magazines and newspapers are online now replacing The Readers Guide to Periodical Literature.
Rebecca says automation hasn’t diminished – or changed – the heart of the library system. “Our core purpose is to be a gathering place, where ideas and information are exchanged and instruction given – for free. We’re all helped by new technology and methods.”