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Library News

By: Mark Roseman, Board Member
For: Red Rock News
Date: July 24, 2009

Where’s Dewey?

A Brief History of Public Libraries

I kept my library card carefully scrunched in the bottom of my Roy Rogers lunchbox; it was my passport to the library’s card catalog. Those catalogs provided the “address” of every book on the shelves. When was the last time you flicked back 3x5 cards in a catalog searching for a book? Have you noticed that those wood-crafted cabinets, with brass pull handles, and long sliding drawers filled with 3x5 cards . . . are gone?

Every library’s 3x5 cards were coded with the Dewey Decimal System numerical key for each book in the library’s collection. In 1876, Melvil Dewey developed the classification system that became a tradition. Remember locating the card for the book you wanted and writing down the number, and then going to the bookshelves and finding it? It felt great. This system made it easy and fun to find books, and return them to their proper place. The question today is . . . where’s Dewey?

The answer is, it’s still here, in a newer, more modern way, but still based on the tradition and culture of America’s Public Libraries. I never focused on how public libraries accommodated changes in technology, community trends and demographics until I sat on the Board of the Sedona Public Library. What I discovered is that our library system is built upon the shoulders of early leaders who recognized how a library and a community mesh together. I learned there’s a rich history behind the golden thread of values, systems, and practices that evolved as early libraries made their books available to patrons.

Before Dewey’s system, the brightest light for public libraries was Benjamin Franklin. Franklin’s many visionary accomplishments include having been the father of America’s libraries. In 1731, Franklin founded The Library Company, in Philadelphia, America’s first successful lending library. Today, the Library Company continues to be a non-circulating library of rare books, see: Benjamin Franklin saw a need for an inexpensive way to make books available to the public, during a time in American history when Standard English language books were expensive and difficult to locate. In the 18th century, books were shipped to the colonies from Europe, ending up in only the collections of the wealthy.

The next major boost to the American library system was through the generosity of Andrew Carnegie, the Scottish-born American industrialist and major philanthropist. Carnegie earned the nickname Patron Saint of Libraries for his contribution to the development of the public library system.

Between 1883 and 1929, Carnegie’s vision and wealth built 1,689 public libraries in the United States. Most towns that applied for Carnegie library grants were fortunate recipients. When the last grant was made in 1919, there were 3,500 libraries in the United States, nearly half of them built with construction grants paid for by Carnegie’s foundation.

Along with Carnegie’s financial support, women’s clubs in the late 19th century were critical in fulfilling the growing need for libraries. These women’s organizations were instrumental in organizing construction and long-term financial support for public libraries, through fundraising and lobbying government bodies. Women's clubs were vital in the founding of 75-80 percent of the public libraries in the United States. Carnegie's grants were catalysts that energized lobbying and organizing by women's clubs.

The waves of change are well represented at the Sedona Public Library. Our new library director, Ginny Volkman, is an integral and unique information resource for viewing the evolution of SPL from the 20th to the 21st century. Ginny’s perspective is unique, having previously been the SPL director from 1979 to 1984, and then returning to us in June 2009. “Libraries reflect all the new technologies that have come and gone,” Ginny told me, adding, “our collection was all books when I was originally here.” New technologies have changed the way we get our information. Compact discs (CDs) have replaced books on cassettes, and MP3s may replace CDs. VHS video technology has changed to DVD high-resolution formats. Public libraries are alive and responsive; they have recreated themselves in concert with advances in communications, information retention, and retrieval systems.

The SPL is a private nonprofit corporation providing a public service. It has strong kinship to the vision of Ben Franklin and Andrew Carnegie. Our library has historical roots that follow the national trend, according to SPL Librarian Sheila Tressler, and is also engaged in new community services, such as its Hispanic collection and programs overseen by Marcela Saldivia-Berglund. The SPL Spanish language collection has an impressive and growing selection of materials.

A visit to the SPL answers the question – Where’s Dewey? Our library, like all others around the country, is not stagnant, but rather is on the anticipatory leading edge of technology and community service. The card catalogs of old are now electronic data bases of knowledge. When you search for a book today, you do it at a computer screen, making your request electronically. Melvil Dewey’s organizational system is alive and well on our library’s electronic card catalog as well as the SPL website:

You can do a search through the library from home if you like. Visit the SPL website to access the world of knowledge. It is at your fingertips. The day of the scrunched library card has come and gone. Your public library card, today, is more than a passport to a card catalog; it is the key to the start of your journey to endless education, research, self-improvement, entertainment, and fun.

Mark Roseman
Mark Roseman, author of this week's article,
is a retired attorney and a Member of the Board of Trustees of the Sedona Public Library.

Library Hours Reduction

Due to a reduction of City of Sedona's funding, Sedona Public Library will be reducing the hours we are open to the public.  The Library is eliminating all Sunday hours and two evening hours on Monday for a total of seven hours.
New hours effective August 1, 2009, are:

Monday              10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Tuesday              10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Wednesday         10 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Thursday             10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Friday                  10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Saturday              10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Sunday                 Closed      
We regret any inconvenience this may cause our patrons.

Library News appears each Friday in the Red Rock News
and is also presented on: Gateway to Sedona and Sedona Biz.