There’s something about those milestone numbers ending with zeros that catch our attention. They are nice and round and solid. They are numbers of distinction. And now, at the McPherson Public Library, 100,000 is the number of items we have in our collection.
It’s taken us more than a century to reach 100,000. By the end of the first year of the library in 1902, when it was located on the third floor of the McPherson County Courthouse, it is likely that the collection consisted of about a couple hundred books, as well as a few periodicals.
As I write this, I have on my desk accession book No. 1, the large ledger weighing some 14 pounds in which the librarian began recording new additions to the collection that first year. The very first book officially added to the library in 1902 was “Adam Bede,” by George Eliot.
One expects library collections to grow, but quantity is not the same as quality. If the library had kept every book we ever purchased, we would have reached the magic number — and run out of room to house all of them — long ago.
Public libraries typically employ a process they call “weeding”, in which outdated, worn-out, or ephemeral items are pulled from the collection at regular intervals. A library should add more materials than it withdraws over time, and the collection size should continue to steadily increase, as has ours.
Of course, items of historic or lasting value are never pulled from the collection. Some items are checked out so many times that they fall apart and must be replaced. A note in accession book No. 1 next to the entry for” Adam Bede,” that very first book, indicates that it was withdrawn in 1967. That’s not a bad run on the shelves for any title.
At about the same time that “Adam Bede” was deaccessioned, library collections began diversifying. Books, magazines, and newspapers were joined by a progression of other media over the ensuing years, which included phonograph albums, microfiche, microfilm, art prints, sculptures, toys, cassette tapes, VHS tapes, CDs and DVDs.
Until a year ago, each of the items that were owned by the library and searchable in our catalog were tactile objects. We could pick up one and hold it in our hands. But with the addition of eBooks, a portion of that 100,000 items consists of digital content. You can find it in our catalog and read it on a computer, eReader, or iPhone, but it’s nowhere to be found within the walls of the library.
Library collections of the future likely will consist of quite a few items, which are familiar to us, as well as some that have yet to be developed. But for now, where I’m standing today, passing that 100,000 milestone feels very good. It’s an achievement about which both the library and the community can be proud.
Page 2 of 2 - Steve Read is the director of the McPherson Public Library.