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What would Mr. Fitzgerald think?

Delving into the history of the Douglas County Library for a number of projects last year gave me an interesting reminder of how different the library is today than when it was first established in the 1890s.

In fact, the Alexandria Public Library that I first entered almost 36 years ago had elements that little resemble what is seen in our library today. I remember the old card catalog in the basement of the Carnegie, the first time the library had CDs, and the old punch machine that marked due date slips.

Much has changed in our library over the past century or so. What hasn't changed is our commitment to the community that we serve. We provide access to information. We provide a warm, safe, caring space to explore new worlds, learn new facts, enjoy new stories and be inspired to create new masterpieces.

The early library was shaped by the librarians who ran it. A portrait of James Fitzgerald, library director from 1896 through 1910, hangs on the wall above our free magazine table. Watching over the Friends' Bookstore and the entrance to our meeting room, Mr. Fitzgerald represents the start of our library's journey through time. His library had stacks of books that were carefully guarded. A large ledger listed the books that were available to read. Patrons were required to jot down a few titles on a piece of paper. The first book located by the librarian on the shelf was the book given to the patron.

I wonder what Mr. Fitzgerald would think of our library today. Patrons encouraged to find their own books — and more! — would boggle his mind. Story hours and magicians and people talking in the library above the sound of a whisper could be quite challenging for him.

But, I bet that after some time to acclimate to the present day and all of our technological changes, he would appreciate that the spirit of the library remains the same. Our goal is to connect our library patrons to information. We don't pick a book off the shelf for the patron. Instead everyone is free to find what they want. We can even help the patron find books, audiobooks, DVDs and magazines that might not be on our shelves, but on the shelves of libraries throughout our library system and, in fact, anywhere in the state of Minnesota.

Since we offer so many different types of items to check out, we can't always just say the word "book" when discussing what we own. When I write this column, I often will say library "materials" or "items" to encompass the choices that we offer.

While we may move away from books as the main focus of the library as they were when the library was established, books will remain a key item that we offer. I think that Mr. Fitzgerald would be happy with the library of the future.

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