for the Future
Mission Statement of the LaGrange County Library:
access for patrons of all ages to the increasing amount of information
and educational opportunity available through electronic media and also
to improve the library staff's ability to serve the public using the technology
available to us.
The last decades of the 20th century witnessed
technological advances unequalled since the days of the Industrial Revolution.
Computer technology now affects us at work, at school, and even in our
homes. New realms of possibility are open to anyone with access to
a computer. And the revolution is far from over; indeed, it gains
momentum every day, with every new discovery, every new idea, every new
application. Access to new technology is critical to businesses and
1. Public Computer and Internet Access
What does this mean for libraries in the 21st
century? First of all, it means that libraries have the ability to
offer their patrons more information and more educational opportunity than
at any time throughout history, and to do so at astonishingly low cost.
It also means that libraries have to opportunity to provide better, faster,
and more efficient service than ever before.
of the Future
There are two schools of thought
concerning the libraries of the future. One is the “warehouse full
of computers” theory; the belief that in twenty years or so, books and
magazines will exist only in electronic formats, and libraries, empty of
print materials, will exist only to provide access to computers.
This scenario seems unlikely for several reasons:
Computer screens must improve to the point that people
can comfortably read entire books on them.
Computers must become small enough and inexpensive
enough that they will be as easy to use as print material; people must
be able to read them in bed, let children handle them, take them to the
beach, browse through them in waiting rooms, etc.
Even if the necessary changes in computers take place,
publishers will still want to be paid. Books may exist in electronic
form rather than print, but they won’t be free. There will still
be a need for libraries to provide them to the public.
The second theory is that personal computers
and Internet connections will come to be regarded as necessities and will
become household fixtures just like telephones and televisions, thus eliminating
the need for libraries to provide them. This seems far more likely,
especially since we have already experienced something similar: When
VCRs first became popular, there was a huge demand for the library to offer
them; however, over time, most people bought their own VCRs and the demand
Regardless of which theory you subscribe to, there
is universal agreement that libraries can and should use computer technology
to improve and expand their services. This must be taken into consideration
when planning the new building.
Needs and Goals
While the demand for on-site computers is likely
to decline eventually, demand is very strong at the moment. I would
actually expect demand to increase for a few more years. Right now,
most people in this area are still just experimenting with the Internet;
overcoming their fear of new technology and finding out what it’s capable
of. Computers are becoming cheaper all the time, but they are still
too expensive for many people. Once it’s possible to buy a high-quality
computer for $500 or less, I expect the demand for library computers to
drop off rapidly.
However, demand will never die out completely
for one major reason: The Amish. Already, the Amish community
is beginning to use the computer technology offered by the library.
Computer usage will likely become commonplace with the next generation
of Amish children, many of whom attend public schools where computer literacy
is taught and expected. They will have vital computer skills, but
no way to benefit from them unless the library meets their need for computer
The library has a responsibility to protect
public property from theft.
3. Compliance with Current Library
The new building, if well designed, will help
reduce theft by reducing the number of unsupervised areas, but it will
also present a perfect opportunity to implement a security system. Furthermore,
security devices could be affixed to library materials as part of preparation
The LaGrange County Library is one of
the last un-automated public libraries in Indiana. Library automation
has become so universal that we actually have difficulty obtaining the
basic supplies we need to catalog and circulate new materials. For
that reason alone, it is vital that we automate.
4. Improved Service
Over the years, automated libraries throughout
the country have established authority controls; that is, standards and
conventions that make library catalogs more uniform and therefore faster
and simpler for both patrons and staff to use. Libraries can now
exchange classification information directly, eliminating local cataloging
quirks and errors. Library holdings can be searched by a wider array
of search criteria. Interlibrary searches and requests can be completed
in a fraction of the time. We cannot meet these standards or benefit
from them unless we automate.
Automation allows libraries to provide
services that were impossible before:
5. Standardization of Service
This also means that staff will be freed up to provide
more attention and better service to patrons.
A quick computer check can tell a patron or staff
member whether or not the library has a certain item, whether or not it
is checked out, and where it is shelved.
Items loaned from the main library to the bookmobile
and branches (and vice versa) can be tracked by computer rather than by
pages and pages of lists and by memory.
If a patron requests an item that is checked out,
staff will be able to place a reserve on the item—no matter where it is—with
a few clicks of the mouse, and will be able to tell the patron when the
item is due to be returned. No more weeks of searching for requested
items that seem to have vanished.
Staff will be able to tell patrons exactly which
items they have checked out and when they are due, without searching through
hundreds of circulation cards.
Teachers, who check out hundreds of books at a time,
will receive a printed list of everything they check out. This will
make it much easier for them to collect all the books when it is time to
return them and cut down on the number of books that are lost and must
be paid for.
The automated system will alert staff members to
patrons who have overdue materials, unpaid fines, and revoked privileges.
This will allow staff to notify these people of the problem and get it
cleared up. Presently, the staff relies on typed lists and memory.
Overdue notices, circulation reports, and many other
documents can be generated automatically.
Cataloging will simplified and sped up.
Currently, each library branch is completely
separate and has its own way of operating. It is confusing for staff
members to go from one branch to another and try to operate, to say nothing
of patrons’ confusion.
A single system-wide automation package, utilizing
a union catalog and implemented via a wide-area network, will result in
better and more uniform service at all branches. Branch workers will
no longer be able to “make it up as they go along.” They will have
to adhere to standards and policies set at the main library. Any
patron who walks into any branch of the LaGrange County Library system
will enjoy the same benefits of automation and receive the same treatment
and level of service.
The only thing we know for sure about
the future is that it will bring change. We must maintain the flexibility
to change with the times.
The surest and safest way to prepare for new technology
is to keep up with current technology. If we wait until the last
minute, if we cling to old ways of doing things as long as we possibly
can, we will eventually be trapped in “do or die” situations. We
will be forced to accept any solution that works, whether it is the best
thing for the library or not, just to keep functioning. By staying
current with technology, we will be able to look at new technology as it
is introduced, decide whether it is appropriate for our library system,
and implement it gradually.