Our library enters the computer age
The North East Leader a Messenger Newspaper reported on the beginning of the information technology revolution at the City of Tea Tree Gully Library, on page 3 of the edition dated 15 June 1983. Computer technology had been installed which would benefit local residents and enable staff to store information about all of the books in the library.
Just like magic a librarian could wave a computer wand across a member’s credit card sized borrower’s permit (their library card) to reveal their identification number. The customer could then borrow when the wand was waved across a barcode on a book, as the computer would correlate and store this information electronically. Imagine that! Furthermore, the computer referencing system would allow library staff to easily see if books were on loan and to whom.
To put the wonder of all this change into perspective, it helps to know how people used to borrow books before the installation of computer technology.
Website Quora recalls how libraries used to operate (https://www.quora.com/How-did-old-library-systems-work-before-computer-catalogues)
Some readers might remember using the card catalogue at the library. Library staff would type or write out three or more cards for each book. The catalogue cards would detail information such as its title, author, date of publication, subject area, and the call number which indicated where it was shelved in the Library. Then librarians would file each of these cards in alphabetical order in separate drawers labelled title, author and subject area. Customers and staff would have to rifle through a long row of cards, to find out if the library actually held a book and to find out where they could locate it on the shelf. You didn’t want to lose your place either or the cards would fall back in order!
So what happened when you finally found the book you wanted to borrow and took it to the service desk?
The North East Leader article is correct when it reported that computers would allow library staff more time to assist customers with enquiries! Each library book used to have a card in a pocket stuck inside its cover. Library staff would remove the due date card from the book pocket then stamp it with the date the book was to be returned. They would record a patron’s name and library card number alongside the due date of the book. In some libraries members also had to sign the book out. Then the date card would be placed in sequence in a special holder.
Staff would either stamp piece of paper which was stuck inside the book or place a due date slip inside the book’s pocket, so that a customer could see when the book was due for return. Alternatively, librarians might spend ages stamping due date slips when it was quiet in the library.
When somebody returned a book, a librarian would take the date card out of the holder and return it to the pocket in the back of the book. The book would then go onto a trolley for re-shelving, and the circulation process would begin again. At regular intervals a librarian would manually check the date cards to identify overdue books. They would look up the patron by name in the library’s membership records and send out a reminder notice.
Library Technology Officer Hayley was happy to discuss how library systems had changed at Tea Tree Gully Library since the time that this article appeared in the North East Leader. Here are some of the significant improvements for our customers:
Since our Library has embraced Radio-Frequency IDentification technology (RFID) Library staff no longer have to scan and read the barcode of each item to issue it to a customer. Items can now be borrowed and returned using RFID technology which sends a signal from the item to the computer.
Our customers no longer have to stand in long queues to borrow items as you can use our self-check machines at your leisure. RFID allows for multiple items to be processed at the same time which can be more convenient than scanning them one by one.
Notice also in the North East Leader article that the original computer screens had a dark background with coloured print. Nowadays the desktop where we search the library catalogue is visually enticing and much easier to read.
The One Card Library Network has transformed the public library service in this state. Through a shared computer network customers can access millions of items available throughout South Australian public libraries, not just at Tea Tree Gully Library.
The implementation of the One Card Network has also greatly reduced the time that library members have to wait when they reserve, or put an item on hold. Aside from new items, customers will generally be sent the first copy that becomes available, whether that be from your local library or as far away as Cooper Pedy!
With the introduction of the new Libraries SA App customers can save their card digitally and have it available on their mobile device. The app also allows customers to place holds, view checkouts and renew items.
Library staff and customers may not have believed that these changes were possible when this article went to print in 1983! And to quote the words of the late comedian and civil rights activist Dick Gregory “The only good thing about the good old days is that they’re gone.”