Libraries Then, Now and Everything In-Between
By Vanessa Dauber, LeRoy Branch Director
Walking through the library today is a drastically different walk than what my grandma experienced, during her library days. In the 1940s, a walk through the library was a quiet walk through a small room. You had to sign a card to check out a book. You could see who had checked out that book before you. You had to look things up in a card catalog that was hard to use. There was no technology and no programs. You just checked out books from a ridiculously small collection.
In the 1960s, when my parents used the library, libraries were growing, but were still incredibly quiet. A library had more books to choose from. Book collections were starting to grow. Schools in small towns that did not have public libraries would allow people to come in and check out. Through the years the world changed, and the library changed with it. In the 1970s and 80s, you could start to check out VHS and vinyl records from the library.
In the 1990s, public libraries started offering public computers for use, and in 1995 libraries started to embrace the internet. Windows 95, Amazon, Yahoo, eBay, and Internet Explorer launched making the world and information easier to access. In the 2000’s when I walked into the library, it was still quiet but there were more options to check out and once a month there would be a program you could attend. I remember being able to check out books, movies, and CDs. During this time, Google dominated the search engine market and there was the rise of Wi-Fi – wireless internet communication. Smartphones were starting to become available. The Sony Librie was the first e-reader, created in 2004. The first Kindle, created in 2007. As technology started to advance, the library had no other option but to follow suit. I remember hearing over and over, “Libraries are going to be a thing of the past.” “Who even checks out books anymore?” “Why would someone check out from the library when they could just read the book on their e-reader?” Who knew that libraries would thrive?
If you walk into the library now, it is definitely not quiet and it is far more than books. Now in the 2020s, you might be amazed at what you will find while strolling the shelves of the 6 branches of the Coffey County Library system. In Burlington, you might find cake pans and an old Cricut machine to check out. If you were having a BBQ or some other type of outdoor event, you could go to New Strawn and check out a large variety of yard games. Gridley checks out iPads. LeRoy checks out basketballs!! Most of the branches sell coffee. Some of them sell handmade cards. Lebo could set you up with snacks and drinks.
Other things that make the library different than it was “back in the day” are all of the ways the library goes out of its way to serve. All Coffey County Libraries have outdoor book lockers for after-hours pickup and solar chargers located around their towns and at their branch for your charging needs. LeRoy is a UPS access point and can mail your packages for you. Stop by Lebo if you need your blood pressure checked or something 3D printed! Gridley has a blessings box for those who need a blessing or two. As the weather is starting to turn, keep in mind that you can check out puzzles and board games from Waverly and New Strawn. Burlington and Lebo have clubhouses for your littles to play in. All of the libraries offer wonderful programming for all ages and great spaces for you and your family to enjoy.
It is amazing to see how libraries have evolved. The library is no longer a quiet place to look at a few books. The library is a place where you discover, you job search, you spend time with your families, you explore, you travel without leaving your house. Because of digital platforms like Hoopla and Sunflower eLibrary the library is something you can put in your pocket and take with you. The library world has changed so much over the last 80 years. I look forward to seeing how the next generation is served by the library!