Emily J Weitz
For someone like John Jermain Library Director Catherine Creedon, who has been working in the library system since 1975, technology has revolutionized the job. But if you ask her how technology has changed the mission of libraries, she’ll tell you it hasn’t.
“John Jermain and public libraries in general have always been dedicated to making sure the public get the information they need,” says Creedon, “and making that information accessible to all segments we serve. What technology has changed is the way we implement and satisfy that mission.”
When Creedon started out in the field, card catalogues and the Dewey Decimal System were used to access that information. Librarians assisted patrons by helping them navigate thick reference books or calling organizations and businesses to get data. By way of example, Creedon pulls a thick, dusty green book off her shelf.
“We used the Readers’ Guide to Periodicals,” she says. “This is like an artifact now, like you’d keep your grandmother’s spinning wheel in your living room.”
Creedon notes that this has happened to a lot of tools that were standard research materials a quarter century ago, and are now all but obsolete. And it’s because of the dawn of the Internet.
At the same time, Creedon points out that not everyone has a laptop, not everyone has access to the Internet, and it is built in to the library’s mission that it help those people have access to information as well. As a result, John Jermain Library has purchased laptops for in-library use, increased the number of desktops available, and made wireless Internet accessible throughout the library. The library has also started offering classes in everything from Beginning PC and Beginning Mac (in partnership with local business GeekHampton) to Photoshop and How to Use an iPad. There are iPads available for young children in the children’s section of the library. The Teen Writing Group has its own online blog through the library (moss.johnjermain.org). The library has also added a copy machine that scans and faxes, and once the library moves back into the permanent space at 201 Main Street, there will be many more changes adopted.
“It goes back to our mission,” says Creedon. “It is the library’s mandate to make sure information is available to the community. So much information is only available digitally now. There are so many job postings that will only accept applications online.”
Creedon tells a story, with tears in her eyes, of a recent occurrence when a library patron who had been out of work for some time met the staff at the door as they were about to open in the morning.
“She was facing deadline for a job application, and didn’t have a computer,” says Creedon. “She got assistance in using a public computer from the librarian, and she contacted us later to let us know she got the job.”
But technology changes fast — so even as the John Jermain Library works to incorporate all these new technologies into its offerings, the staff also needs to keep an eye on the future. Construction of the new space has helped them envision the future.
“We will have a digital media lab,” says Creedon, “with music editing and movie editing software. We’re looking at 3D printers where you can use drawing software to print something that can be assembled. Ideas are not always two dimensional.”
Creedon has also been working with the library’s tech advisor Eric Cohen on the idea of becoming more of a resource for the local music scene.
“We hope local musicians can bring their CDs and we can make them available here,” she says. “People without recording contracts can still be heard.”
But Creedon notes for all the forward thinking that technology inspires, it also offers a great resource for preserving the past.
“I think technology supports our commitment to local history,” says Creedon. “The ability to scan rare historic documents, to make things more widely available, to collect in a digital format : it all gives us access to the micro-local.”
But change in a historic institution like a library doesn’t just mean the director needs to have an eye on the future. It means all the employees need to be willing to grow and develop their skills as the world demands.
“We view new technology as an imperative as part of the way we’ll be delivering service,” says Creedon. This means mandatory trainings, which the library has held, in which all public service staff have had to demonstrate competencies in a range of technologies from eBooks to posting on the library blog. In the future, she adds, the whole role of a librarian could change.
“We’re not sure yet what the future will hold,” says Creedon. “But there are public libraries who have done away with the checkout desk. Staff then go to other aspects of technology, like helping with downloads. We are looking at how technology will change not only what’s in the library, but how the staff is equipped to serve.”
When asked where in relation to other libraries John Jermain stands on the technology front, Creedon smiles.
“We’re not cutting-edge,” she admits, “but we are definitely early adopters. We have the benefit of a community that is intimately involved. Also because of the building project, we are on the lookout for things we might want to adopt. And we’re small enough to be able to experiment without a lot of investment. One or two iPads in the children’s room is easy to implement on an experimental basis, and we’re always willing to give it a try.”