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A Day In The Life of The Library

Mountain View participates in statewide effort to highlight importance of libraries.

Some people grew up with card catalogs. A whole generation didn't.

On the same day the Mountain View Public Library's (MVPL) new online catalog went live on the Internet, the library participated in "Snapshot: One Day in the Life of California Libraries," a statewide effort on Monday, Oct. 4 aimed to show customers what a typical day would look like. Almost 1.7 million items circulated in and out of the MVPL for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2010, an increase of 8 percent compared to the previous year, the start of the current economic crisis.

"The Mountain View Public Library has been very fortunate because like most cities, Mountain View has seen reduced revenue," said Rosanne Macek, library services director. "[The City of] Mountain View has been very committed to the public library and we've been able to maintain our hours and our materials budget. We did reduce staff from attrition."

One of the ways the library has coped, not only from the increase in circulation, but also foot traffic—845,577 people visited the library in 2009—has been due to the recently acquired German automated return system—called the mk Sorting System. The system, which they've had since March 2008 has helped MVPL check-in 4,500 worth of library materials such as books, DVDs, CDs, audio books per day.

"It's like the Golden Gate Fast Track system," said Shirley Yung, circulation supervisor, about the conveyor belts that receive library materials from three different directions and then sorted them into 11 different bins. "I call them the 101, 237 and 85."

Each library item in circulation has a tag with a radio frequency identification (RFID) that stores information about the library material—including that it belongs to MVPL. When a customer returns the item through the 24-hour drop-off outside the library, the automated return inside or checked it in with library staff, the item goes on the appropriate conveyor belt and the RFID chip tells the system's software what bin to drop the book in. Then the book gets shelved.

"It's faster and it helps reduce injuries," said Yung, adding that the system can get jammed if more than one book is placed on the belt at once. "More and more libraries are using this."

But before the books can leave the library, they must be found and checked out, and Paul Sims, the library services manager, hoped the new online site facilitated that process.

"The new catalog has a clean homepage on which one can search using key or general words," Sims said as he demonstrated the site to library users. "Then you can filter easier by availability, format, language and even publication date."

Sims added that the new catalog allowed customers to add books to a cart, similar to a wish list, to remind themselves of books they wished to read in the future and even to tag that is, create lists of books that's easily searchable, and then share that list with others.

Mountain View resident Lani Osorio visits the library every few weeks to get audio books for those who can no longer read. She liked the automated return since she checked in many books on each visit and it sped things up.

Still, after she listened to Sims' explanation about the new catalog and despite how impressed she was by it, she felt some hesitation about using it.

"This is hard for me because I'm not a computer person but for my daughter, it's much easier," she said. "For me personally, the card catalog, I miss it."

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