Glendale, Pasadena Project : Libraries Team Up to Install Computers

Times Staff Writers

The public library systems of Glendale and Pasadena have joined forces to help readers find books by pushing a few buttons, instead of flipping through hundreds of catalogue cards and searching rows of stacks.

Computer terminals, containing information on the whereabouts of 1.3 million items in the two cities' library collections, are now available to the public at five branches in Glendale and nine in Pasadena. Others are to be added soon.

"Libraries are right up there on the cutting edge of automation right now," said Jack Ramsey, Glendale Public Library director.

Computers allow library users to find a book by author, title or subject and show which branches in Glendale and Pasadena have the book, whether it has been checked out and when it is due back. The cities have also instituted a daily delivery service between them.

'Double Borrowing Power'

"The automation will allow Glendale library patrons to have access to double the borrowing power," said Ruth Thompson, library services supervisor for the Glendale Public Library. "Our patrons now have the entire Pasadena system to choose from." And Pasadena library patrons have access to books in Glendale, she added.

Nora Goldsmith, senior librarian at Glendale's Grandview branch, said inter-library loans have always been available, but "they didn't have direct access to it before and now it's at their fingertips."

The city councils of Pasadena and Glendale decided in 1981 to jointly develop a computerized library system for staff use. It cost the two cities $524,000 over an 18-month period to buy and install the automated system. Included are the central computer at the Pasadena Central Library, terminals, printers, telecommunications equipment and bar code labels--like those used on supermarket products--for books, Ramsey said.

$1,900 Per Terminal

The libraries decided last year to take the main computer a step further, making it available to the public. At a cost of $1,900 per terminal, Glendale purchased 16 and Pasadena bought 19 additional terminals for public use.

By last month, at least one terminal had been installed in each of the nine Pasadena branches and five of the six Glendale branches. In Glendale's Central Library, the new system is in the children's section and in special collections, but terminals for the main part of the library have been delayed because of electrical problems and will be installed later this month.

Computer catalogues will be installed later this year at the Montrose-Crescenta branch, which is closed for remodeling. When it reopens in June, patrons will have to learn how to use the computer because the traditional card catalogue will be gone.

Card catalogues, however, remain at the other five branches for the time being. Many of the branches have already stopped updating them and the catalogues only serve as a historical record.

"The automated system is a better utilization of our staff and resources," said Liz Bishoff, principal librarian of support services for the Pasadena Central Library. "It has allowed staff to work with the public a lot more."

Additionally, computers will continue to allow the libraries to streamline inventory control, keep count of overdue books, produce bills for lost and overdue items, list books that patrons are waiting for and prepare circulation statistics, Bishoff said.

Private libraries, such as the Huntington Library in San Marino, and some universities have offered automated card catalogues for public use in recent years. But according to the American Library Assn., fewer than 1,000 of the 15,179 public libraries in the country offer automated systems to their patrons.

Only one other public library system in the county, Long Beach, has allowed the public to use a computer catalogue.

Popular With Youths

Long Beach has 13 terminals in 11 branches available to the public, said Tim Winkey, director of catalogues and project manager for the Long Beach Public Library.

"From what I've observed, young people have really taken to it," Winkey said. "It's more fun than going through a lot of cards."

Winkey said Long Beach plans to install a larger computer system early next year because the existing machines have reached their capacity to hold information and support terminals for the library's 1 million books.

"But the system has reached its five-year life expectancy," Winkey said. "We've had the normal problems of any machines. They break down from plain use and age."

In Pasadena, Bishoff said, librarians were concerned about how the public would react to the new technology, but patrons using the computers have had little difficulty.

"The computers require people to have some typing ability and this has been a hindrance to some," Bishoff said.

'Hunt and Peck'

However, Mary Alice Wollam, branch librarian at Glendale's Casa Verdugo branch, said she doesn't think typing ability is necessary.

"They can hunt and peck. The thing people really have to do is read it. It's self-explanatory. People are stunned by the fact that it's easier to use than the card catalogue and they can find books easier," Wollam said.

To find a book by Ernest Hemingway, for example, the user searches under author, and within seconds all the titles by Hemingway appear. The patron then tells the computer which book he wants, and the computer indicates which branches have the book, whether the book is checked out, and, if so, when it is due.

Wollam said many of the patrons at her branch are senior citizens and that this is often their first exposure to a computer. "Most people are computer-phobic, but it's so easy to use, they amaze themselves that they're able to use it," she said.

Grandview branch librarian Goldsmith said the children from the elementary school across the street are very interested in the computer catalogue.

"They think it's a neat toy and want to do games. We've had it about a month and a half and the novelty hasn't worn off," Goldsmith said.

She said she shows the children how to find books and has placed a five-minute limit on computer use to give everyone a chance to try the system.

Misha Maksic, 11, a sixth-grader at Thomas Jefferson Elementary School, said he often waits to use the computer catalogue.

"I use it as much as I can," Misha said. "Nobody uses the (card) catalogue anymore. This is easier because in the catalogue you had to search, but in the computer you just press buttons."

Another patron waiting to use the Grandview computer was Burbank resident Sally Noland. She said she uses the computer "once and sometimes twice a week."

"It's wonderful. It's a far better system than the card catalogue and it's simple to use. A 10-year-old showed me how to use it," Noland, 65, said.

Several other cities in Los Angeles County, such as Pomona, Torrance and Los Angeles, are planning to install similar automated card catalogue systems for their patrons.

The city-operated Central Library of Los Angeles, one of the largest in California, has not installed a computer system for the public, primarily because a computer large enough to store data on the library's 6.5 million books would cost an estimated $9 million, said Elizabeth Higbie, assistant director of technical services at the Central Library. However, she said the library system will probably add automated card catalogues within five to six years.

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