Life’s work among books

Veteran Morro Bay librarian Jude Long remembers the days of helping patrons search for information without any assistance from the Internet.

“They really didn’t have an expectation that we would answer on the spot,” she said. “They were asking us to do reference work and find an answer.”

Now, at a time when DVDs are the most popular item checked out on a daily basis at the Morro Bay Library and people expect information to be delivered almost instantaneously, the role of the community library has changed dramatically.

“It has been a crazy evolution since 1975,’’ Long said, when she began her career.

Long, the branch manager for the Morro Bay Library, will retire in December, just two months shy of 35 years of service.Clearly, she’ll be missed.

“She is willing to do whatever it takes to provide the level of service the customers need,” said Karen Robert, president of the Morro Bay Friends of the Library. “She has done such a great job of getting us to this point.”

Long studied library science at Eastern Illinois University in Charleston, Ill., where she learned traditional library practices using a card catalogue.

In the mid 1970s, during the days of writing handwritten overdue notices and using a signature to check out a book, Long said, western novels written by authors such as Zane Grey and Louis L’Amour were among the most popular.

Now that those novels are no longer being published, Long wonders how long they’ll last on library shelves.

That’s because the library is looking to remove books that haven’t circulated in a year, and replace them with newer books that are more in demand, she said.

Now she sees more patrons using the library for the Internet. Lately, because of the recession, she said, patrons are using it as a tool for job searching or crafting a resume.

“We have more people bringing in their laptops using Wi-Fi than we have sit-down readers,” she said. “That’s OK with us. … That’s a new use of the library.”

She attributes a 22 percent increase in circulation over the last year to the weak economy.

She said patrons visit the library more often to make up for other ways they’ve cut costs, such as canceling their Internet service and video rental services such as Netflix. And they’re not buying as many books, she said.

Certain titles are clearly more popular, Long said, noting that Oprah Winfrey’s Book Club selections have made a significant change in reading patterns.

And children don’t come around as often as they used to, either, she said.

“In the 1970s and ’80s, we knew when school was out because a flood of children came through our doors,” she said, usually to do science reports and other class assignments.

Now she suspects they’re doing such research at home online.

One way the Morro Bay Library is trying to build closer relationships with students again, Long said, is by making video games available for check-out, a service that became available last month.

“Our hope is that it brings people who are not likely to use libraries to our doors,” Long said, referring mainly to families and young boys.

As for her retirement, Long plans to stay active in Morro Bay, especially in the Chamber of Commerce and Rotary Club. “I think first I’ll be getting my bearings after 35 years,” she said. “Just a little bit of relaxing and a little bit of playing.”