Changing with the Times

Libraries are not what they used to be in the North Country

Story and Photos Alan Fanitzi

The library doesnt just have book. They also have DVDs audiobooks, and music CDs.

The year is 1993, and a first grade class takes a field trip to their local library for the first time. When they walk in, the students see shelves of books surrounding them, accompanied by the aroma of stale paper. Shortly after, the librarian approaches and explains all the neat things a library can provide. She points to the small children’s section where she says they can take out books for both school projects and their own enjoyment. She then takes them to a room of four computers the library just got in.

Now in 2011, the roles and services of a public library have changed drastically from a place designed to store information to a place that uses makes information more accessible across different mediums. The idea has always been the same, but what’s different is that the technologies are upgraded.

“Libraries are more than just books – they are information and ideas, and because of that, it does not matter what the format is,” says Stan Ranson, the director of the Plattsburgh Public Library. According to Ranson, whenever there is a new technology advance, the library will try to incorporate that in their services to promote the spread of learning, literacy, and education.  This is one main reason that libraries are different than bookstores and chains such as Barnes and Noble and Borders.

“Libraries are more than just books – they are information and ideas."

This does not mean that libraries compete with bookstores for customer favor. It works more like a community of people working together for a cause. “We often buy books from bookstores,” Ranson says, “Particularly the Cornerstone Bookstore (in Plattsburgh, N.Y.); we go there constantly and buy local history books and add them to our collection.” In addition, the Plattsburgh Public Library would also buy new books from Borders when it was located in the Champlain Centre Mall. 

Ranson says having local bookstores in addition to the library is important in having a healthy library because it helps with their inventory. “We were unhappy that Boarders closed and were really unhappy that Corner-Stone Bookshop was up for sale,” Ranson says. Having local bookstores and larger book retailers is a necessity for libraries because they help stock the inventory to help fuel customer demand, Ranson says.

Not only do the libraries of today carry most of the latest books, they also carry DVDs and some old VHS tapes. The Plattsburgh Public Library has a collection of more than 500 DVDs. On average, the library staff cleans 125 disks per day.

A library card is needed to access all library services.

“Right now, our DVD circulation is higher than our non-fiction reading circulation,” Ranson says.  Since the library is now a carrier of different mediums, it is not surprising that the circulation of DVDs dwarfs some book genres like non-fiction.

DVDs are not the only medium that is a big hit at the Plattsburgh Local Library. The library recently created the Community Computer and Employment Resource Center with the goal of assisting individuals in finding jobs all over the North Country. Kathleen Duffy, a workforce advisor for the Employment Resource Center, says that many people take advantage of this service and are successful.

“We have people who come in and spend all day researching jobs, sending out applications online, and taking our workshops,” Duffy says. She says this service is very popular, and more than 300 people used the service in September 2011.

“When I went to library school, the only computer was the Innyack, a computer with 28,000 vacuum tubes and three kilobytes of memory."

According to Duffy, individuals who want to use the service and have a library card can come in and sit down at one of the 12 computers. From there, they can access a program called Job Now and submit their application, resume, or cover letter. Within 24 hours, a professional job coach will correct their resume and upgrade it to optimal status. In this way, a library harnesses its resources to help out people in a downed economy.

Ranson has been in the library for more than 50 years. In his opinion, the biggest change is the technology. “When I went to library school, the only computer was the Innyack, a computer with 28,000 vacuum tubes and three kilobytes of memory. Since then, we have had the upsurge of computers and personal computers and the internet,” Ranson says. 

In this slowed economy, the Plattsburgh Public Library has become an important tool to help people get back on their feet. If individuals were faced with the choice of buying a book new at the bookstore or taking it out from the library for free, the choice may seem obvious. 
“With the economy the way it is, it appears to me that our resources have been used a lot more than they have been in the past,” says Sharon Bandhold, a librarian at the Plattsburgh Public Library. “If people have a choice between buying gas or buying books, they are probably going to buy gas.

What amenities do you take advantage of at your local library?
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Just a Click Away

The Plattsburgh Public Library, along with many other libraries in the North Country, offers the service of taking out an item online. The program works by allowing members of the library to simply enter their ID number and browse through the library’s growing collection of audio books, movies, music CDs, and books. It is simply a matter of selecting the products you want and clicking a button.

Once the library obtains your item, they will hold it until you decide to pick it up. For readers who use a Kindle or Nook, the library also offers free downloadable e-books for its members.