Cheryl Dobbs: New year, new library

If you grew up in the 60’s or 70’s like I did, you may be a little disappointed that we don’t yet have flying cars or food replicators. I know I am.

I was really hoping I’d have a personal helicopter by now. But with supercomputers in our pockets, Google and Amazon Prime, I suppose we are not all that far from our imagined future.

Of course, there are some things that seem not to have changed at all: We still have many familiar anchor institutions — schools, hospitals and libraries. School days and doctor visits have certainly been transformed since our Polaroid past, and libraries are different as well. Here in Johnson County, our libraries have a rich, century old heritage but are roaring into the 20’s for a second time.

Today’s libraries continue to promote reading and literacy, but they look very different than the libraries of my childhood. While print books are still very popular, now you can also choose to access your next favorite read on your tablet, laptop or phone.

More than ever, libraries offer spaces to gather, study and do business. And now you can access an ever-expanding variety of practical resources such as DIY kits, board games, STEAM kits for kids, maker spaces, sewing machines, 3D printing, VHS conversion tools, faxing and so much more.

Your library is also available 24/7 from the comfort of your couch, where you can checkout online classes, use car repair and other databases, stream movies or check out ebooks all without getting out of your PJs.

If you haven’t been to a library recently, these changes might be a lot to take in on your first visit back.

In order to keep the shock factor to an absolute minimum, we wanted to give you a preview of just how much has changed and what you can expect this year.

In 2019, Greenwood Public Library ended the century-old (for us) practice of late fees. We also began automatic renewals. It’s all part of our pledge to “Make Library Easy.” One year in, we are more than a little amazed at the results of these decisions.

You see, when I was a kid, librarians would have said that the threat of fines were what made people return books. So we did not expect to see “lost” books start coming back to the library. And they came in droves! Although we forgave a little more than $11,000 in fines last year, we also welcomed back almost $14,500 in lost books. Along with the lost books came the lost patrons who had stayed away to avoid the fines. It has truly been a win-win.

In 2020, the library is getting ready to make using your library even easier. Our new Subject Savvy (cataloging) system will not only make it easier to find individual books, but also to browse and discover new favorites. This word-based system thinks the way you do — in words. You’ve always been able to search our catalog with key words or subjects, and now our shelves will also be organized with those subjects, rather than translated into numbers.

Have you ever walked into a library looking for a 398.2? How about an 811? Or, if you are a deep thinker — a 185? Unless you are a librarian (and probably not even then), it’s more likely that you came in looking for folktales, poetry or philosophy. And then the friendly librarian or our computer catalog translated subject search to a number, which took you to your book. The only thing that is changing is the need for that translation.

Transforming our collection from Dewey Decimals to Subject Savvy will take some time, but we will be ready with new signage and our friendly librarians to help you navigate it. We ask for your patience as we make these changes.

What’s next in 2021? A flying bookmobile? I call shotgun.

Cheryl Dobbs is executive director at the Greenwood Public Library. Send comments to [email protected].