Where the heck is the card catalog?
Today’s libraries offer a universe of resources
April 1, 2019
I still get the feeling that most libraries I have visited the last twelve or fifteen years are, well, naked. OK, maybe that is not the best description, but at first glance they seem to be missing something very important.
Where is the card catalog? It was the brain center of every library -- a dark wooden wall of dozens or hundreds of sturdy little drawers holding thousands of index cards with key information about the library’s holdings. For decades my fingers laboriously walked through those cards searching for that part of the world’s information I needed for projects and assignments. If a library didn’t have a card catalog, it wasn’t really a library.
My, how times have changed. Now all that information from the old card catalogs is stored on a couple of computer “servers” in a closet somewhere, augmented by a universe of information via the internet. Moreover, many of the books, videos, discs, archives, albums and collections of every kind are also stored on those same servers and throughout the internet. Amazingly, you can access this world of information through your own computer, smart phone, or other digital gizmo without ever visiting the library.
Across Alaska every community library has a different collection of services and information. Visit your local library to find out all the new stuff that’s now available. Librarians are typically quite knowledgeable about their newer services or holdings, and in my experience are very pleasant people to learn from. Library websites are also informative.
Since I live in Anchorage, I’ll point out some of the cool services available through the Anchorage Public Library. All you need is a free library card, a computer or other digital device, and a connection to the internet. If you don’t have access to any of that, your local library probably has a computer you can use there.
Libby, formerly known as OverDrive, is an application you can download from your usual source to use on your digital phone or tablet, or even your Kindle. It has thousands of electronic books (ebooks) and audio books you can search, download and read or listen to on your digital device for free. I listen to audiobooks while I am walking or doing chores around the house. A good book read by a skilled reader makes any dull activity tolerable, even pleasurable.
Hoopla is another free service sponsored by the Anchorage Public Library. Through Hoopla you can use your computer or other digital device to listen to music and audio books, watch movies and TV shows, and read ebooks and comics. My wife and I use Hoopla to watch Maigret, a French television series with English subtitles featuring a thoughtful and compassionate French detective in 1960s Paris.
Freegal is a free music service featuring thousands of artists, tens of thousands of albums, and millions of songs. You can stream music for three hours a day, and download five songs per week. The music files are DRM-free and do not expire. Freegal apps are
available for most popular digital devices.
RBdigital is the largest independent publisher of unabridged audiobooks. They feature ebooks and audiobook titles from major publishing houses. RBdigital apps are available for most popular digital devices. Just remember you have to “register” first with RB in order to get your literary treasures.
And now for something a little different – Lynda.com. With a Lynda.com subscription available for free through participating public libraries, you can learn software, technology, creative and business skills to achieve your personal and professional goals. With your library card, you get access to a vast library of high-quality, current and engaging video tutorials taught by recognized industry experts. This extraordinary service is free through participating public libraries, but costs at least $300 per year if purchased directly from the company.
And by the way, you can still walk into your community library – a safe and quiet place to read or contemplate life’s mysteries -- and find old-fashioned books, newspapers and magazines.
Finally, a word about an extraordinary library treasure equally available to every Alaskan across the state with access to the internet. You will have to explore the Alaska State Library (https://library.alaska.gov/) for yourself to see all the fabulous stuff it has. One of my favorites is the Alaska Digital Archives with a wealth of historical photographs, albums, oral histories, moving images, maps, documents, physical objects and other materials from libraries, museums and archives throughout our state.
These are tough times in Alaska. The public sector is under attack, but please love and protect public libraries —the heart and soul of so many of our communities.
Lawrence D. Weiss is a UAA Professor of Public Health, Emeritus, creator of the UAA Master of Public Health program, and author of several books and numerous articles.