The More Things Change, the More They Stay the Same…
Even though I’m a creature of habit, I actually enjoy change. Over the years, I’ve come to recognize that change means a new beginning, no matter how big or small. And I’ve learned that change isn’t bad, it is just different. Right now, even what you are reading marks a change. Like all of you, I have enjoyed Ann’s well-written, insightful columns of the past two years. So this issue’s column is a new beginning for me, and while I have a tough act to follow, I’m looking forward to serving as Tennessee Libraries’ Staff Development columnist.
Before elaborating on how I believe the more things change in libraries, the more they stay the same, I thought I’d give you a snapshot of the writer behind the words:
Ask any of my friends and family what I most like to do and they all say, “Christy likes to read.” I’ve loved books, learning, and information since I, well, learned to read. To this day, I’ll read anything I get my hands on and nothing tops the escape into a great book. When I was in second grade, I started collecting books and formed my own library on my closet’s top shelf. I created my own (albeit bizarre by our professional standards) call number scheme, and I even lent out my books to friends (with a due date, of course). At age eleven, when a tree climbing accident grounded me, I spent the whole summer in my public library, reading. A few years later, I began volunteering several hours a week at the library and got my first taste of working in the environment I loved. The older I got, the more I read, the more library books I checked out, and I went off to college, using my undergraduate degree in – surprise – English Literature as a stepping stone to my MLS. I worked throughout college in the university library, and my friends joked that I should move a cot into one of the study rooms since I was there so much. I even lived in the dorm next door to the library, so it wasn’t out of sight…. (Uh, that was purely coincidental, actually.) I graduated and began working at a university library in Indiana, and for the fifteen plus years that have followed, I have been working in an environment that I still love.
It would seem logical that burnout might occur. After all, I’ve been in the profession for a pretty long time, so when I was invited to write for this column, I began thinking about all of the changes I have seen in libraries in my lifetime. I realized that despite all the changes and technical revolutions, some things have remained the same, and I think this is why I still love libraries. Kind of like watching the first man walk on the moon or the first space shuttle launch, librarians have had the opportunity to not only watch but to actively engage in changes that benefit our profession and our society. For my first appearance in the column, I wanted to share with you my observations.
I love to reminisce. It helps me appreciate what I have now if I think about where I’ve been. Looking back, if only there’d been technology when that tree climbing incident landed me in the library all summer. I’d wanted to check out a stack of books, but things weren’t automated so I had to hand-write my library card number on each checkout slip. I’m a lefty and that was the arm out of commission. The librarian took pity on me after a few awkward attempts at writing with my right hand and filled out all of the cards for me. Just think, today it is a swipe of a scanner over a barcode. Not a problem if I’d fallen out of that tree this summer.
The card catalog. We may still use the word “catalog” to describe library holdings, but predominantly, libraries offer this access electronically today. I think we all have seen wooden card catalog units on GovDeals over the years. And the catalog cards? Entertaining scrap paper and “in a pinch” bookmarks. Electronic access is so much more efficient, convenient, user friendly. But, I still remember the way the drawers smelled when I opened them and the feel of flipping through those cards until I found the book I was looking for…
Pam binders. Remember these? As a library volunteer, I spent a lot of time organizing periodicals alphabetically into pam binders. My public library also used the same quasi-cardboard for cassette tape holders. This way they all fit on the shelves neatly. As more and more periodicals migrate to electronic access, the pam binder isn’t as prevalent. And, we all know that cassette tapes went out with the 80s and 90s. (That truly doesn’t seem like 25 years ago, does it?)
Pencils on a chain. My memory of these is that the chain was always about two inches too short. The pencil never quite reached where I needed when writing down a call number or my library card number on the checkout card. The pencil was never sharp enough, and the whole setup was more suitably situated for right handedness (definitely okay, but remember I’m a lefty…).
Okay, so pam binders, library check out cards, catalog cards, and pencils on a chain -- really Christy? Is this all you remember about libraries growing up? What about those days before the computer was commonplace and internet access made information readily available with a couple of clicks? What about lack of convenient printing, rules against food and drink in libraries, and quiet policies? What about those days before mobile devices, Facebook friends, e-readers, and copyright concerns? The list of changes goes on and on.
But we’ve approached these changes as new beginnings, so we’ve evolved, and we’re still successful. Technology boomed in the 80s and 90s, and because we incorporated it, libraries are more relevant than ever before. In fact, libraries today are at the center of communities, campuses, schools. Fueling this relevance is the commitment, passion, customer service philosophy, and perseverance of our profession. Timely, personalized access to information is the cornerstone of any library and our ability to provide this elevates our purpose to essential.
Looking back, these same characteristics were evident in libraries when I was growing up. The quality customer service, the true desire to help users access relevant information – both were evident each time I used a library. As I said before, I spent a lot of time in a lot of libraries. I found them to be different in layout, of course, but the theme was always the same. And that theme remains today. We may no longer rely solely on pam binders, card catalogs, and pencils on a chain, but we continue to embrace service, relevance, and information access. These qualities bind us together as a profession and are what sustains us in our ongoing journey. I don’t know about you, but I’m in it for life!
What sorts of library memories do you have? Do you miss libraries of days gone by? Or are you more likely to keep moving forward and embrace our continual evolution? I’d love to hear from you. Thanks for reminiscing with me! My next column will flesh out highlights of quality service to our users (we know they can be colorful) and how to keep engaged on the worst of days. Til next time, here’s to new beginnings.
Christy Groves is the User Services Coordinator at the Walker Library at Middle Tennessee State University. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.