We Are Readers!
For years there has been chatter among librarians about what to call the people who frequent libraries. Customer sounds too much like a retail relationship. Member sounds exclusive. Is there a fee, and are there non-members? User seems too impersonal. Although, some library “users” would happily proclaim their obsession for mystery novels, science fiction or other genres! While we tend to fall back on the term patron, it can have a philanthropic ring to it, as in patron of the arts. It hearkens back to an era when public museums and libraries were funded by, and often exclusive to, civic and community groups.
Perhaps we should address the activity rather than the relationship? Reading is the important connection, and Washington County library patrons are readers. Over 272,000 people are card-carrying patrons of Washington County Cooperative Library Services (WCCLS), active readers and proud of it. Last fiscal year, readers checked out over 12.7 million items from WCCLS libraries, an impressive increase of 14% over the previous year. Beaverton’s new branch at Murray Scholls contributed significantly to that increase. However, Banks and North Plains Public libraries both saw checkouts increase over 30%. Our libraries continue to meet the literary needs of traditional readers, but increasingly offer new options. Checkouts of downloaded audio and e-books, for example, more than doubled last year, a trend we believe will continue as more people turn to electronic devices to carry their reading lists.
2011 marks the 35th Anniversary of the establishment of countywide library services for the residents of Washington County. To recognize this milestone, WCCLS launched a We Are Readers! campaign to recognize the many people who epitomize the benefits of a reading life. Over 100 people volunteered to have their photos taken posing with their favorite books. Ranging in age from 6 months to over 100 years, and representing all walks of life, these readers proudly proclaimed their book pride. You are never too young or too old to appreciate a good story! Librarians often talk about the benefits of reading, helping children to succeed in school and providing lifelong learning opportunities for adults. Sometimes it’s nice to just appreciate reading for the sheer pleasure of it. Books entertain, engage, enlighten and entrance. Enjoyment in a portable package!
With that I salute the readers of Washington County. You will see reader photos in this Newsletter issue, gracing the WCCLS delivery fleet, on the WCCLS.org website and elsewhere in coming months. We encourage all of you to proclaim your reader pride, too. We Are Readers!
35 Years & Growing
2011 is the 35th anniversary of the beginning of countywide library service in Washington County. Prior to 1976, six cities operated public libraries—Beaverton, Cornelius, Forest Grove, Hillsboro, Tigard, and Sherwood. At the time only residents of those cities had free access to public libraries. Everyone else, and this applied to the majority of County residents, had to buy annual library cards at one of these libraries or go without. Most went without library service.
The Washington County Cooperative Library Services (WCCLS) was established in 1976 with the approval of the first countywide property tax to provide public library service. Funds were collected countywide and distributed to the six existing public libraries so they could afford to open their doors to all County residents. Thirty-five years later, WCCLS operates on this same basic principle of free library access for all residents at any of the now 15 public libraries in the county.
Library service has changed considerably during those years. In 1976, WCCLS established a union card catalog (remember card catalogs?) that was housed at the Pacific University Library. The first WCCLS levy included funding to pay for what was then long distance phone calls so librarians from across the County could call the University. Staff would look in the central card catalog housed at the University and tell the caller at which library in the county a particular book was located. Then they would call that library and ask to borrow the book. It would either be mailed to the requesting library, or the patron was told where he or she could drive to check out the title. Do you remember when it seemed reasonable to wait days for a book to be mailed across County to your library so you could read it? This is one of those stories to which my children would respond, “Mom, that never really happened. Who would do that?” Well, yes we did. It was cutting edge library service at the time.
And at the time, the public library collection contained mostly books—no DVDs, no downloadable e-books, no CDs (though there were some LP record collections), no research databases, no library website or online catalog. The first “online card catalogs” were only experimental in the late 1970s, and it wasn’t until 1986 that WCCLS installed its first computerized circulation system and public access catalog.
Since 1976 the County population has increased from 196,000 to 532,620, an increase of over 270%. To paraphrase a 1970s advertising slogan, “we’ve come a long way, baby.” And in that relatively short 35 years, technology and the state of library services have evolved so dramatically that now with your finger tips you can browse millions of items in the countywide collection, reserve materials to be shipped to your local library for convenient pick-up, download audio-books, e-books, and thousands of journal articles for immediate use 24-hours a day, text reference questions to a librarian from your cell phone, and write and post your own book reviews on the wccls.org catalog.
What will libraries be like in another 35 years? What will your ideal library look like, feel like, offer you in 2046? Post and share your predictions and ideas on the WCCLS Facebook page www.facebook.com/wccls. Our Twitter handle is @wccls and our address is twitter.com/wccls. We invite you to join in the on-line discussion and are eager to hear your ideas.
Eva Calcagno, WCCLS Director