The ever-changing world of libraries

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By Kirsten Laskey

A lot has changed since Jerilynn Christiansen worked as Library Specialist I in the mathematics and physics library at Princeton University. Card catalogues have vanished, microfilm is untouched and the computer has become the key resource.

Christiansen changed along with the evolutions in libraries, creating a career that started at the University of Utah and currently exists at the Mesa Public Library, where she has been for 20 years.

Christiansen graduated from the University of Utah with a degree in elementary education and a minor in library science. She pursued library science working in the mathematics and physics library at Princeton for five years. Christiansen also working at the Princeton County Day School as her husband did his graduate work.

While at the university library, Christiansen said her boss predicted that technology smaller than a typewriter would be sitting on their desks to do their work. He was right.

The prediction didn’t scare off Christiansen; in fact, she worked with the new technology. When her family moved to Los Alamos and her husband worked at Los Alamos National Laboratory, Christiansen worked with a group that did the first on-line database at Aspen Elementary School.

It was a big project, she said, information needed to be entered manually, but it morphed into the program that is used today.

Christiansen later returned to doing library work because of her previous experience. She added she has enjoyed the past 20 years because of “all the people. The wonderful people I work with, and the people who use the library. It’s an ever changing job.”

Since first arriving at the library, Christiansen said she has “worked in every aspect and every area that we have over here.”

At the reference desk, where Christiansen currently works, she has helped with everything from loading microfilm, to finding birthday announcements in newspapers for Boys Scouts to get their merit badges, to keeping track of county and state documents.

Additionally, “We try to position ourselves to answer people’s questions or help them find the answers,” she said.

Her duties also include conducting inter-library loans and helping patrons with word processing.

It isn’t just the technology that has changed in Christiansen’s line of work; the physical workplace has also gone through transformations.

“I was in the old library during the planning of this library, (and) essentially, we were in one big area,” she said.

Since staff moved into the new library, “Our circulation has increased … (we) added the White Rock Branch; we have added the gallery upstairs … we expanded what we can do for the community,” Christiansen said. “Just to serve them better.”

Serving patrons better meant providing more services. Christiansen said the reference area was enlarged, more activities were added to the children’s program.

“It’s exciting to see the changes,” Christiansen said. “Libraries are not stagnant places anymore.”

Besides her job, Christiansen raised her five children here and developed friendships in Los Alamos. “I like the town,” she said. “I thought I was ready for the big city (but I like) the pace and just being able to go hiking and traveling around New Mexico. The opportunities were here for that.”

Whatever changes have come Christiansen’s way, the one thing that has stayed constant is the quality of staff at the library. “The people who work here at the library are just wonderful,’ she said. “It’s a really satisfying place to work.”