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March 8, 2005 > County Librarian, Linda Wood, Set to Retire

County Librarian, Linda Wood, Set to Retire

Many residents of Alameda County have, on occasion, visited one of the county's libraries and used this valuable public information resource. In the midst of rows of books, magazines, newspapers and audio-visual materials, librarians are the heartbeat of the system, making sure that all are welcome and able to maximize their use of library services. At the head of this complex network is the County Librarian (aka library director) who has the responsibility to make sure all systems run smoothly. Linda Wood, who has been the Alameda County Librarian for the past 14 years and a librarian for 40 years, is set to retire at the end of this month.

TCV: How did you become involved with Library Science?

Wood: When I was in high school, thinking of a career, the idea of being a librarian came up and immediately appealed to me. As a child, I went to the library with my mother and sisters in Portland, Oregon and enjoyed these experiences.

TCV: Where did you start your career?

Wood: In Portland at the Multnomah County Library as a reference librarian. After several years, I was promoted to branch librarian and filled that role at two different branches, then became the assistant to the library director. I was promoted to assistant director of the library and worked closely with the director on new technology, budget and personnel management issues.

In the '70s, I moved to California as an assistant director for the Los Angeles Public Library, one of the largest in the United States. I learned a lot about administration, budgets and politics in a big city environment. My next position was as library director of the Riverside City and County Public Library. After 11 years in Riverside, I had the opportunity to move to Alameda County. It was an attractive offer and I am glad I took the job.

TCV: What progress have you seen in the library system?

Wood: The introduction of the Internet has been an enormous change for libraries. It has made access to information and resource sharing possible for every library. Libraries used to be limited to what was inside their own walls and what could be obtained through inter-library loans - physically transporting books or sending photocopies of periodical articles. Now, even the smallest library can access the Internet.

As librarians, we are making a large number of electronic databases with reference materials, periodical and newspaper content and electronic books available, even at the smallest branches. This has been a dramatic change. Use of the library is growing too. When I began as a librarian, we were pretty much limited to printed material - books, newspapers and periodicals - but now we carry all kinds of audio-visual formats, DVD's, CD's, videos and audio books on cassette and CD. These items are very popular with our customers as are our books. The use of libraries has continued to escalate even though people are using the Internet as well.

A new development is the ability of customers to download an audio book for temporary use just like checking out a book for a loan period. This is a new development in library services. A few Bay Area libraries have just started doing this and we are currently studying this technology.

TCV: It appears that library services are in more demand than ever. Where is this leading? What will the library of the future look like?

Wood: There will be a balance between electronic format and hard copy for a long time to come. Even though electronic formats are increasing popular and young people are growing up with computers and electronic media, there are still issues of long term storage and access. Some things that were stored in the '60s and even the '70s and '80s are not accessible with today's equipment. For long term preservation, microfilm and hard copy are still the most secure way to preserve intellectual content for the future.

Personal preferences also come into account; people may not want to curl up in bed with a computer but are perfectly happy to do that with a book. Consider the picture book and the wonder of introducing a child to books and reading through fine quality picture books in library collections. There is a balance between use of technology to make information accessible and the older format of material. How soon this balance shifts to more electronics will depend on many factors - industry development, library budgets, public preferences and so on. Issues relating to long term preservation and copyrights will gradually be resolved.

TCV: Is the Dewey Decimal System still used?

Wood: Absolutely. This is the basic system that most American public libraries use to classify their collections, especially the books on their shelves. When you come to our libraries, the numbers are on the spine of the non-fiction books. The classification system is continually updated and new additions and updates are put out. Libraries try to keep this system as current as possible without re-cataloging too much. It is not a perfect system, but it is the best one available for public library collections. The Library of Congress classification system is an excellent system used by most academic and research libraries.

TCV: What is the basic difference between the two systems?

Wood: They are both content related systems. The Dewey Decimal System is composed entirely of numbers while the Library of Congress system uses alphabetic and numeric references. These are just two different methods to classify large bodies of knowledge. The Library of Congress system is more amenable to large collections of universal information while the Dewey Decimal System, used originally in the United States in the 19th century, was an attempt to classify existing libraries and collections, reflects the bias of the time. For example, much more space of the Dewey Decimal System is allocated to Western civilization (European collections and languages) than Eastern or Asian civilization. The system has been updated continuously so it now reflects subjects such as computers. Since the Library of Congress was an attempt to collect more comprehensively, a broader base is used.

TCV: The current fiscal squeeze of public institutions has not spared the libraries. How can citizens help our libraries?

Wood: We use a lot of volunteers to conduct programs such as the "Bookleggers" in Fremont that introduces exciting reading for fun to children in public schools. Among the many volunteer activities are clerical work in the library under the direction of staff, our outreach program bringing books and other materials to people who are shut-in, and our literacy program.

There is also the nonprofit Alameda County Library Foundation that can receive money. It exists solely to raise funds for the libraries and supplement our budget. They welcome donations of any size. A large fundraiser called "Passport to Adventure" will be held on April 29 at the Fremont Main Library. It is being planned now and will include a silent auction, food and entertainment with an international theme; it should be a lot of fun.

Also, in each one of our communities, there are Friends of the Library groups focused on supporting a particular library. Each Friends of the Library welcomes volunteers and members and accepts donations as well. There are many ways people can support the library. The part of our budget that is the most discretionary is the purchase of books and materials. This is also the portion under the most financial pressure.

TCV: How can people use the library as a resource when they do not visit physically?

Wood: You can call the library to ask a question but sometimes it is hard to get through because others are calling or the librarian is helping someone who is in the library. On our website,, you can go to a tab "Research Center," and there is a place called, "Ask a Librarian" where you can ask a question that can be answered within 24 hours or chat with an experienced librarian 24 hours, seven days a week. This is a service provided through a collaborative effort of librarians throughout California and other states.

Live homework help tutors are available online Monday through Friday from 1 p.m. to 9 p.m. Bilingual English/Spanish tutors are available on those days from 1 p.m. to 8 p.m. Another area at our website has "Frequently Asked Questions" which may also help provide basic information. Our website also allows people to search the catalogue files, databases, e-books and search the web. There is free access to those with a library card.

TCV: Who is eligible for a library card?

Wood: Anybody who lives in California, although applicants need to come into one of libraries and show an ID. It doesn't matter if you live in an area that provides its own services or within the Alameda County area. There is a program called Universal Borrowing that allows people who are traveling to borrow from a local library if they participate in the program. So if, for instance, someone was traveling to Palm Springs from this area and wanted to borrow a book from their library, they can do so. Someone visiting from Alpine, Stanislaus or Los Angeles counties can get a library card from us and borrow books as long as they come into our library and present an ID. The state reimburses libraries that have a net imbalance of loans to nonresidents. This is an item in the budget that has, fortunately, survived all the cuts.

TCV: Has the expansion of library materials come from donations?

Wood: The vast majority of materials in the library are purchased. We accept donations if they meet collection criteria and are good condition, however donated materials represent a very small portion of library materials.

TCV: How does the library control access to materials for young children?

Wood: The Alameda County Library has had a policy for decades that the library does not question what our users look at or borrow from us. That applies to all ages. Parents are informed of that when their children sign up for library cards. They are also informed that if they want library use monitored, parents must accept that responsibility.

We cannot know what each parent wishes or the maturity level of every child. Internet access locations in the children's areas have filters. In the rest of the library, there is a choice between filtered or unfiltered access. This seems to work well and has been policy for at least 20 to 25 years and our customers seem to be happy with this.

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