Friday, April 25, 2003

“Heaven, I’m in Heaven. . .”

One of the joys of Silicon Valley has been the local library system. Not only do I live within a few miles of a decent branch library, the catalog for the entire system is online. I can search or browse their website for a book, audiobook, movie, or CD. If it’s not available at my local branch (or even if it is), I can put it on hold, and they’ll let me know when it comes in. Nobody else can check it out while it’s on hold for me. I can renew books online, too, and check how much I owe in late fees. (A lot less these days, since I can renew books online.)

When I go to the library to pick up my books, I can check them out myself at a bar-code reader station. (Instructions are posted in English, Spanish, Vietnamese, and Chinese.) The library is always busy with people of all ages, and I believe there are after-school tutoring and read-aloud times for kids. There’s a good ongoing book sale in the lobby. Plus, library users have access to computers for writing resumes or school papers or surfing the Internet. And of course there are terminals for catalog searching.

There is only one way they could have improved the system, as far as I’m concerned, and they have done it. Since I do a great deal of esoteric research, I’ve lamented my lack of access to a university library. I haven’t gotten in to Stanford Library or any of the other great universities nearby. Now, the San Jose city library system is joining forces with San Jose State University. In August, a new main library will open downtown, the first in the nation to be jointly operated by a city and university. And yes, ordinary people like me will get access to the luscious university collections. I can order those books online, too. This is heaven for a scholar. I can't wait.

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