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80s Librarian Predicts the Future

Debra Dodson 1982In 1983 Newcastle librarian Debra Dodson wrote down her vision of what the town and the library would be twenty-five years later. Her predictions along with those of other hometown public librarians in Cleveland, McClain, and Pottawatomie counties were sealed in a time capsule that was created as part of the Silver Anniversary of the Pioneer Library System.

Now, as part of the Golden Anniversary of the Pioneer Library System, the time capsule has been opened and the predictions from 1983 compared with the reality of 2008. Of all the prognostications, the future foretold by Dodson is the most eerily accurate.

In 1983, Dodson wrote: Twenty-five years from now the Newcastle Public Library will be the center of a thriving community with a population of about 7,000 people and growing. 

Newcastle is, indeed, a thriving community and the library is at the hub of the activity. The population within the city limits is pushing 6,000 and thousands more are nestling into the surrounding countryside. Newcastle is one of the fastest-growing communities in Oklahoma and ranks in the top 25 in per-capita income.

Since computers came to Newcastle in the library before anything else in town was computerized, the library is considered the technological leader in the community.  The building is now 100% library and the circulation is about five times what it was in 1983.  But circulation isn’t everything.  People come in and spend hours every day using the libraries four computers for public use.

The Newcastle Public Library, as part of the Pioneer Library System, has always been at the forefront of library technologies. It remains so today. In 2007-08 customers logged over 6,000 hours on the library’s 10 public Internet computers. The library checked out 65,693 items in 2007-08, the equivalent of each resident in the community checking out eleven items during the year.

All library activities are computerized and on-line including circulation, book inventory, catalogs, intra and interlibrary loans.  As a result, the headquarters library handles fewer of the mundane tasks for the branches than it used to.  A good thing too, because their patronage has grown right along with ours.

Indeed, all library operations are computerized and on-line. Self-check and RFID technologies are being added which will streamline the library experience even more. System-wide, the PLS hometown libraries welcomed 1,068,212 visitors last year and conducted 5.4 million customer transactions.

The City of Newcastle is a much more coherent community due to the improvements made over the years.  City Hall takes up a large lot to the north of the library and now we often use their meeting room facilities because our building is bursting at the seams.  The street in front of the library is now paved and extends south for many blocks.  This street is lined with businesses and has become Newcastle’s central business district.

Tenth Street was paved and extended, and in 2004 the library moved into a new facility at the end of the street. The new building includes community meeting space. As predicted, the town is growing around the school, civic, and library campuses that line Tenth Street.

The library staff has grown to a full-time equivalent of five, one of them being a person in charge of adult and juvenile programs and computer instruction.  Less clerical help is needed as everyone pitches in on the computer terminals.  The branch head has an MLS and there is at least one other degreed person on the staff.  The staff will attend many workshops, mostly on how to keep up in a technological society.

The Newcastle Public Library has a staff of eight full and part-time employees: Kathie Thomas, branch manager, who has an Oklahoma Department of Libraries Level III Administrative Certificate as a Public Librarian; Linda Krueger and Janet Oldham, library assistants, who hold Oklahoma Department of Libraries Level III Public Librarian Certificates; Holy Saunders, Diane Medrano, Stacy Hensley, LeeAnn Vaughn, and Jill Snow, library substitutes. Together, the staff is a full-time equivalent of 5.5 employees. The staff participate in a comprehensive staff development training program operated by the Pioneer Library System. 

The basic building will not look much different because so much effort has been spent trying to keep up with the times technologically. The Nature/Science category ( included technology) will be the most heavily used and the Inspirational category the least heavily used.  Audio-visual materials of all types take a large chunk of the library budget and account for a significant percentage of the circulation.

The building is new and its interior design showcases the information technologies provided for customers and staff. As predicted, non-print materials account for 30 percent of the items checked out to Newcastle customers.

But the personal touch is still present.  The children’s librarian still does preschool story time and in the summer the place becomes even busier as activities for children abound. 

The caring, professional staff of the Newcastle Public Library makes it a community gathering place for customers of all ages and interests. Preschool story time is still a popular program. An annual American Indian Festival has been added to a calendar filled with library events and activities. In 2007-08 the staff presented 149 programs that brought more than 5,000 visitors to the library.

And books for all ages are still what we’re all about.  Despite technology, the book still can’t be beat. 

The Newcastle Public Library has more than 20,000 items on its shelves, the equivalent of 3.4 books for each resident of the community. In addition, Newcastle library card-holders have access to more than 475,000 items in the Pioneer Library System collection and can select from more than 500 audio book titles for immediate downloads to their personal computers or MP3 players.

The year is 2008 and I’ll be around, somewhere, to read this and laugh.

Debra Dodson moved to Texas in 1988 to become Debra Holster.

The Newcastle Public Library will celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the Pioneer Library System with a 50s style party complete with ice cream floats in souvenir tumblers, live music, and tons of free, family fun on Friday, September 19, 6-8 p.m.

At the celebration a display of the items from the 1983 time capsule, including Debra Dodson’s predictions, will be exhibited.  Guests will also have an opportunity to suggest the contents of a new time capsule which will be sealed this year to be opened in the year 2033.

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