Farewell Column by Library Director Ronnie Lee Budge

From Past to Present

This is my last column written "From the Desk of the Director." When I became director in 1987, one of my first decisions was that Intercom resume as a weekly newsletter for employees and volunteers. "Since libraries exist to communicate and to provide infomation, we ought to be doing at least as good a job within our system as we do with the public. I hope Intercom will help bind our various departments and branches into one evermore effective Library System serving all of Jackson County." And indeed that has come to pass.

Patrons borrowed lots of books in 1987, of course, and they still do. But in those days, in any branch except Medford, there was no way to know what books were in the library collection. In Medford there was a more-or-less complete card catalog. In Ashland there was a partial catalog. In the other branches there was just a photocopied list of books in the "FIX" collection, i.e., books that rotated from branch to branch. If you were a patron in a branch and wanted a book not on the shelves, you could put in a request and, if it turned out the library owned it, you might get it in a week or two or three.

Then came our first "home grown" computer catalog and circulation system, JACK and JACI. Suddenly patrons of any branch could find out what was in any other branch. Put in a request for a title and, if it wasn't already checked out, you'd have it in a day or two. By 2000, our library partnered with libraries in Josephine County and Rogue Community College to create SOLIS, and we all migrated to the Polaris integrated system. With that step, nearly a million books became readily available to even the smallest of our communities.

Our librarians answered lots of reference questions in 1987 and still do. To give good reference service in those days you needed a big collection of reference books ready to hand. There was a pretty big collection in the Medford Library. For backup we could send questions to the State Library. Sometimes we'd make a phone call. It might take weeks to get the information patrons wanted or sometimes never. Reference librarians these days can almost always find the answers in short order. Even the smallest branch has immediate access to so much more information than big reference centers did then.

Librarians today need to know more than in 1987. How to search for the answer in print, on the Internet, or in an electronic database. How to create a Web page or a blog. How to help a patron online in real time. In 1987 most of the library collection was books, and it still is. Large-print books were just catching on. There were magazines and newspapers. And phonorecords. We were very proud of the "vertical file." That was the term for an extensive collection of pamphlets and other "ephemera" filed by subject in file cabinets. We encouraged patrons to give the library any travel brochures they picked up on vacation. But with the Internet, the vertical file went the way of the dodo bird.

Now patrons have their choice of books, magazines and newspapers, audiobooks on tape or CD, music on CD, videos on tape or DVD. Or they can just stay home and use their library cards to download audiobooks or view the library's electronic resources like World Book Encyclopedia or Chilton's Auto Repair Manual.

We had summer reading programs and preschool storytimes in 1987 and still do. Along the way we got a grant to add "storymobile," bringing books and storytimes to child-care centers. And grants for after-school programming like Storyteller @ the Library.

What about teens? Well, in 1987 there were books with "YA" on their spines. Some teenagers actually found these, interspersed with the books for adults. Then a tiny room in the Medford Carnegie library was converted to a "teen library" -- a place for teens to hang out, sit and read, use a computer. Teen-reading numbers went up. They went up even more when classroom booktalks got underway. Summer reading programs started for teens, and the award-winning "Senior Sundays" (now "Senior Project Days").

Now every new branch has an area planned just for teenagers. The lounge chairs are filled with teen readers, while more teens crowd around the computers. Speaking of computers, they represent a huge change in library use during the past 20 years. Who would have imagined in 1987 that as soon as the doors of our libraries open each day, there'd be a "mad dash" of patrons anxious to get to a computer, sign on to the Internet, send e-mail, do word processing, or research their genealogies?

And no doubt the biggest improvement of all was made possible when voters approved a bond measure to rebuild all the public libraries in Jackson County. Twelve are now completed (Talent Branch Library opens February 25), with only three to go. They're bold, bright, and beautiful and residents of each and every community believe in their hearts that theirs is the very best one.

The public meeting rooms in all our new branches have helped transform our libraries into community centers and cultural hubs. Thanks to Friends, Foundation, and other local groups, although folks in Applegate may not have a Craterian Theater, they have Chatauqua programs in their local library. People in Eagle Point may not have the Schneider Museum, but they have regular displays of regional art. Children in Prospect can look forward to hearing storytellers and musicians just like children in Ashland and Medford.

Thinking about it, I guess the only thing that hasn't changed in 20 years are the people. Well, sure, the names and faces are different. But the dedication, professionalism, expertise, imagination, hard work, and enthusiasm to create and sustain an excellent library system has been there all along.

Throughout the recent turmoil over library funding, the one consistent message has been the public's happiness with the library services they receive and the desire to keep it that way. That's a tribute to each and every one of you.

It has been my great pleasure to work with the finest group of employees, volunteers, and library supporters anyone could hope for. I leave the library in good hands.

-- Ronnie Lee Budge

[Feb. 2007]