21st Century Library (Part 3): Behind the Scenes
In parts 1 and 2 of our “21st Century Library” series, we showed you the opportunities available at libraries, and ones the libraries bring right to you. In today’s installment, we look at what happens behind the scenes to make it all possible.
Eight million dollars is a lot of money, but when that’s all you have to select materials for 41 Hennepin County Library locations, you have to be choosy. That’s where Collection Management Services comes in. Chelsea Couillard-Smith is one of six material selectors working at the system’s Ridgedale headquarters.
“We have to make really tough decisions,” she says. But, “It’s fun. It’s absolutely fun. Whenever I tell people what I do, people are always really jealous.”
Chelsea works with publishers, trying to determine what will be the sought-after books next year, and how many copies the library should buy to meet demand. But she also looks for the less-visible work, often self-published, sometimes by local authors.
Chelsea shows an example of a self-published book she chose “A Tale of Two Mommies” by Vanita Oelschlager. She says books like that are important for the library’s collection.
“We’re trying to find materials that reflect all of the different lifestyles that are in our county, so that every patron who comes into the library can see themselves in our books,” she said.
Once the materials are selected, they go into circulation and eventually end up in a large room at Ridgedale. There, the items are processed by a large sorting machine called the automated materials handler. It sorts every item that goes through the library system and makes sure it gets delivered to the right building. It makes it possible to move around 25,000 materials throughout the library system every day.
But sometimes, books get damaged and if they can’t be easily replaced and the system still needs to keep them, they end up at the Central library in Minneapolis. There, conservator Frank Hurley works his magic, repairing damaged books and preserving archival memorabilia like original war bond posters.
“I love working with books,” said Hurley. “I love everything about old books, I love the smell of old books. The feel of old books. And I really believe that we still need books even with all the digital media that’s available to us.”
All these departments work behind the scenes to keep the system running smoothly, while the departments we showed you in the previous two installments make sure the library stays useful to its patrons. Of course, in this series we weren’t able to show you everything you can do at the library, but if you’d like to know more, you can go to their website and explore.