Submitted by countylibrary on

In 1921, the Burlington County Library was all about the books. When we opened our doors 100 years ago, residents were hungry for knowledge and our humble book truck could be spotted crisscrossing the region with a fine collection of titles for all to enjoy. Today, our residents still look to us as a source of knowledge and we still love to check out books. But thanks to the wonders of technology, we have so much more to offer!

It may seem hard to believe, but our libraries weren’t always the bustling, high-tech community centers they are today. In fact, patrons were flipping through the card catalog until the mid-1980s, and you couldn’t even pull out a chair to surf the internet before 1995. But there’s no doubt we’ve always been ahead of our time! While getting books into the hands of eager readers was far and away the primary focus during our early years of operation, a good novel or biography wasn’t all you could borrow in 1921. Did you know residents were invited to check out Victrola records too?

Fast forward to the 1960s and our libraries continued to embrace the growing advances in technology. In 1963, we began offering visitors photocopy service for 25 cents a page and in the late 1960s, we purchased microfilm readers and microfilm of local newspapers and magazines. Patrons could start borrowing cassette players and cassettes in 1972, and that same year, we added talking book machines from the NJ Library of the Blind to our services. Around this time, cardholders could also borrow 16mm films for free, projectors for $2 and screens for $1. And, a newspaper photo from 1974 showed two youngsters “absorbed in story told by a sight and sound filmstrip projector in the children’s room at the library.”

The 1980s would usher in an era of significant technological expansion for our libraries, benefiting both the staff and public alike. We installed our first computers, joined a national consortium for cataloging, and completed a book barcoding project. We also added VHS tapes and compact discs to our collection. And in 1986, following several years of preparation, we unveiled our new online “card catalog” system to the public; instead of pulling out a drawer and flipping through cards, patrons could search for books and other materials quickly and easily on public computer terminals. (If you’re feeling nostalgic, you can see a vintage card catalog on display at the Burlington County Library. It’s still filled with cards, too!)

During the 1990s, fast-moving advances in technology became pervasive and our library system continued to embrace the future. In fact, BCLS - which has the distinction of being the first county library in the state - made history again in 1995; it became the first public library in the state to offer patrons access to the internet. Just a few months later, staff begin offering computer classes to those eager to travel on the “information superhighway.” Soon, job seekers were using our computers to search for employment, and patrons were checking their library card accounts by dialing into our catalog. In 1996, we posted our first webpage, and a few years later we received a grant to purchase an interactive voice messaging system so customers could use their touch-tone telephones to review items on loan, renew materials and more.

The next decade brought even more change. Announced in 2000, our new computer system enabled customers to access the library catalog from their home computers to reserve material, and tap into a wide variety of databases and the statewide Interlibrary Loan system. Several years later, our new Freightliner bus hit the road. Offering “info to go,” it was our first bookmobile equipped with laptops with real time internet connection for checking library material in and out, including books, DVDs, audiobooks and music CDs. Around this time, we also introduced our ebook service to library users excited to download “electronic” books to their home computers.

In the ensuing years, the exploding popularity of laptops, tablets and smartphones continued to alter the way residents seek and consume information, and we continued to adapt. Our BCLS website has come a long way from its humble debut, and we update it regularly with timely blogs and service information. We also reach out through our newsletters and social media platforms Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Today, a century after we first opened our doors, a BCLS library card doesn’t just give you access to the latest bestsellers gracing our shelves; it’s a small but powerful tool that opens the doors to a virtual world of knowledge and entertainment. We offer a vast array of online resources, including ebooks, audiobooks and streaming video. Kanopy, for example, offers access to one of the largest collections of films in the world, Flipster is a next-generation digital distribution service that lets you enjoy your favorite magazines, and NewsBank provides top-quality, national and local, full-text news articles. You can even trace your roots with Ancestry Library Edition. Thanks to our Device Lending Program, we’re able to ensure that no one is left behind, either. Now available for borrowing, our tablet kits are pre-loaded with essential apps for video conferencing, online school and job hunting, and our mobile WiFi hotspots let you connect to the internet from home. Our Playaway Launchpads are self-contained tablets that offer resources and learning tools aimed at middle and high schoolers. And our Chromebooks offer a quick and easy way to browse the web while visiting our libraries

No longer viewed as simply quiet places of study, our libraries have also become vibrant hubs of activity in line with the modern times. Our locations offer public computers with free access to the internet, technology classes, STEM programs and more. Our main branch, the Burlington County Library, even features a 250-seat auditorium with state-of-the-art equipment for hosting professional quality live performances.

We’re proud of all the advances we’ve made in the digital age and if you haven’t checked out your library’s offerings lately, we urge you to spend some time doing just that. You’ll find we still have lots of great books lining our shelves, but there’s so much more to explore!