25 years of change

May 16, 2008

Some have asked, “Wasn’t it just recently that the library expanded?”

As a matter of fact it was 25 years ago. I actually remember it clearly. I’m sure others remember it well too. Whether it was watching the front entrance move from one end of the building to the other or seeing the false ceilings come down, it left quite an impression on many of us who were here 25 years ago. (Of course, having to work amid the mess of construction does tend to implant the image in your brain!)

In some ways 1983 does seem like yesterday. (Unless you weren’t born yet, in which case you’ll just have to take a leap of faith on this one.)

But in the world of libraries, the changes that have transpired in the last 25 years have been monumental.

  • In 1983 we didn’t own a video. Videos had just been invented and the war between Beta max and VHS was still on the horizon.   
  • In 1983 we owned just a few books on tape but the earliest versions were the ultimate abridgment of a book, consisting of only one tape, no matter the length of the book. The production was also poor quality by today’s standards. Now we own more than 3,400 audio books in both the tape and the CD format. It is one of our most heavily used collections.
  • In 1983 we didn’t own a single computer. Microsoft Windows was invented two years later, in 1985. Now we own 36 computers, each one taking up its very own space and putting a load on the floor that was never designed for the weight it now carries.
  • In 1983 we owned 50,876 items. Today we own 81,000 items. The library has had a “no growth” practice for adding items since about the year 2000. That’s library lingo for having no more room to add new materials unless something else is moved off the shelf.
  • In 1983 our circulation was 103,911. Last year our circulation was almost 186,000. This translates to an increase of 79% in items being checked out by the community. Remember, the items leaving the building are eventually returned. So actually, to analyze true collection usage, that number needs to be doubled.
  • In 1983 the library reported 35,047 visits by people. Last year we had 181,112 visits. The number of library visits is now more reflective of usage than any other single number. The way people use libraries has changed greatly since the advent of the Internet. These days many people come in to use library resources without ever checking out anything. A 417% increase in the number of people who enter our building is a clear indication of how our community values and utilizes our library.

It would be safe to say the world has changed since 1983. When the architects were planning the building, they sized it to last twenty years. Those twenty years have come and gone and never could they have envisioned the kinds of changes we’ve seen in those years.

We have done our best to adapt to the changes in those years but have come to the place where we realize that we have not only reached our building capacity, but we have also stretched it beyond its original intentions.

While the pace of change has been rapid over these last 25 years (and has felt relentless at times), it has prepared us well for the changes yet to come. More about that in future entries.

(Note this article is adapted and updated from a column that originally appeared in the Daily Jefferson County Union newspaper)

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