Not Such a Crazy Idea

This week I finished my “paper” on Stewart W. Smith.   I mentioned him a few weeks back when I was talking about “new” libraries.  Smith was the first director of the St. Louis County Library system.  I have really enjoyed researching him, he was on the cutting edge of what most of us just consider normal in the library world.  His goal was to emphasize comfort and informality while eliminating what he called, “the unnecessary, the stuffiness, the atmosphere of intellectual snobbery that prevails in many libraries.”  Not only did he introduce fun into the library he was also interested in all things new and different, leading to the mechanization of various library procedures.  The self-proclaimed, gadget happy librarian, was the first to use the addressograph in cataloging books (The Addressograph was designed to speed up the process of addressing labels and envelopes for business mailing lists. It is halfway between a printing press and a duplicator– instead of using raised metal type or a screen, this machine uses embossed metal plates and an ink ribbon to create a print.), he eliminated traditional registration records for patrons (making it easier), and was the first to reproduce cards photographically.  “Unhampered by the dead hand of tradition.” Smith, “made his organization into a nationally known success story.” 

One of my favorite articles about him included the following: “Right now Smith is intrigued by a new idea – microfilming, a device whereby books would be filmed and given to customers, who would read them with a special device, and then throw them away. “A kind of disposable book,” Smith says.  “Think of it, none of this fiddle faddle of storing and mending, none of the problems of space which every library faces.  It’s not such a crazy idea, at that.””

Microfilm didn’t necessarily go in that direction, but can you imagine how excited he would be about eBooks, digital audiobooks, streaming? 

I have mentioned multiple times how the library is always changing.  Always has, always will.  VHS died a few years back, yep, there were still a few on the shelf when I started at the library 10 years ago.  Now we are watching the DVD/CD die.  We have a pretty extensive collection of audiobooks and DVD’s. Circulation numbers continue to drop for these physical items.  The budget has been cut the last two years in a row and I am already questioning if there needs to budget at all for this content in the upcoming year. Hoopla and OverDrive are our 2 most used digital content resources, not only for eBooks, but for audios and some movies.  Our first year with Hoopla we averaged 120+ checkouts a month, in 2020 that average jumped to 350+, in 2021 another increase to 430+, and this year we are already showing a 500+ monthly checkout.  Yep, that budget is going to do a big shift in the next year. 

I don’t think of digital content as a “disposable” book, but man I love how it offers more content without taking up more space.  Smith was right, the fiddle faddle of storing, mending and space is a concern every library faces.  I cannot keep every book, I cannot buy every book, but we sure do try to provide access to as much content as we can.  If you cannot find it on our shelves, try Hoopla, try OverDrive, ask for an interlibrary loan.  Like Smith, we consider ourselves unhampered by the dead hand of tradition. Microfilming was not such a crazy idea in the 1960’s, just imagine what we will be talking about in the 2060’s. 

Upcoming Events: 5/18 Story Time at 10am, 5/21 Ranch House Story Time at 9am, 5/21 Farmers’ Market from 9am – noon. May is the last month to participate in the Little House Reading Challenge.