Off the Shelf: Looking Back

This month fourteen years ago, the first Off the Shelf column was published. I never would have guessed at the time that today I’d be writing my one hundred and sixty-eighth column. I’m grateful to the editor who gave me this opportunity to highlight the many ways that libraries serve communities and to everyone who I’ve worked with since. I’m especially grateful for each person who has taken the time to read this column over the years.


It is no surprise that the first column was about summer reading, a hallmark program of public libraries. I’ve written several times over the years about how much I enjoy the busy summer reading season and why it is so important for children to keep engaged and learning over the summer months.


Right now, area libraries are starting to wind down their busy summer reading line up of programs, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t still fun things to do at your library and lots of time to read great books before summer passes into fall. From a packed house for a magic act at the Capitol Theater to storytimes in the park, spy camps, and so much more, we’ve loved seeing so many of you this summer. You won’t want to miss Blank Park Zoo’s visit this week, the library’s new mystery book club, or the Vacation Through Time event about the Egyptian pyramids at the end of the month.


Over the life of this column, I’ve enjoyed kind comments and emails from community members and even a letter from the Barbara Bush Foundation thanking me for highlighting their research and literacy map. Until the library got new phones last month, I had a saved voicemail from a woman who called to thank me for my 2011 column titled “Don’t Read This Column” about banned book month. She said that she read the column even though the headline said not to do it and appreciated libraries having a variety of books and giving readers the freedom to choose.


Each year I especially look forward to writing the December column. I’d forgotten that the tradition of using that column to share book suggestions from team members at area libraries started in that very first year. Each year I come away from that column with new ideas for my own reading and often with gift ideas for my family, too. I hope readers did too.


There are so many great libraries in our area. From that first column, I’ve also been reaching out each month to my fellow librarians to compile a list of programs and events across the region. I enjoy seeing what is being offered and often follow up with more questions about speakers or programs they are having as options to offer at our library.


One of the great things about library programs is that they are almost always free, and you don’t have to have a library card at that location to attend. If you see a great event in Keokuk or Mediapolis on the list that runs alongside this column, you can enjoy a visit to that library.

Looking back, it is interesting to see what has changed and what hasn’t. Digital resources significantly increased. Most years there was a column about a new virtual library option. Since those first columns in 2008, libraries offer more ebook and audiobook options and have added streaming and downloadable music, digital magazines, streaming movies and TV series, online homework help and live one-on-one tutoring, resume and job search tools, video tutorials, digital newspapers, and more.


Going back to the 2008 columns, I found an article about how libraries can save you money. It leads by talking about “the economy dominating the news.” Not too different today. The tips in that column could run again today and be relevant.


Thank you for reading this column. I hope that over the years it has given you new reasons to use your library and support the work that libraries do to serve communities.


See you at the library!