By Nancy Covert
What are you reading this summer? Chances are if you’re a Pierce County Library System patron you’ve either selected your reading material from one of 17 branch library shelves—or else you’ve placed a request, and the book will be delivered to your local branch within a day or two.
The Pierce County Library System has more than 1.3 million titles in its current inventory—moves about 2,600 of these items between its libraries on any given week—thanks to the almost Herculean efforts of its three delivery trucks, staffed by five regular and one relief driver. PCLS operates three trucks that make deliveries throughout the system’s (area—square miles), six days a week.
The library’s operation is usually taken for granted, but sometimes it’s useful to look behind the scene to see how it all comes together.
Throughout the week, the System’s drivers log in about — miles transporting books, DVDs, CDs and other reading materials from one end of the county to the other.
Supervisor Frank Holcomb (above), also is one of the drivers overseeing the pickup and delivery around the system.
“We move about 300 crates per day per route, which is actually 900 crates per day in total. The average contents of a crate is about 30 items, or about 27,000 items between branches every day. “
It’s 9 a.m. on a late June Tuesday, and Frank has arrived at DuPont’s library, prepared to deliver the latest books on order and transfer materials to other libraries. Once the library opens at 11 a.m., library pages would be sorting the day’s deliveries, ready for patron pickup.
From the moment a request for a specific title is placed—say, David McCullough’s newest book, “The Greater Journey,” the book is pulled and placed into a transfer box (in this case a black or grey lattice design milk carton crate.)
“It’s the right size for handling,” Holcomb says.
A small white card, bearing letters such as STE, ORT, BUC, SH, etc. that designate its destination is then affixed to each crate
The inside of the delivery truck is arranged for ease in unloading, with crates stacked no higher than five crates, and perhaps as many as two rows deep.
“Depending on a book’s availability (with no high demand for a particular title), it’s possible for the book to be shipped from one library to another within 1-2 days,” says Mary Getchell, PCLS Media Relations spokesperson.
Of course, it may take longer if there’s a high demand for a book—sometimes as long as several months. Readers, though, learn patience. It’s worth the wait.
Gone are the days when patrons were limited to three books per checkout; nowadays, unless there are overdue fines that must be paid before a patron can check out any more books, there’s no minimum amount of books. A big boost to system readership is the popular Kids’ Summer Reading Program for kids, a program that’s in place not only at PCLS but also Tacoma Public Library System. Young readers are encouraged to read at least 15 hours this summer.
“The most important and rewarding part of my daily work is helping and encouraging the children to drop their materials in the book drop,” Mr. Holcomb continues.
‘Typically the Mom lets them carry the books to the drop where they earnestly struggle, often on tiptoe, to place the items in the slot. I often have to help hold the door open for them. I then thank them for doing such a good job.”
As for Holcomb’s reading preferences, he says he’s currently re-reading “All the Pretty Horses,” and he considers “The Crossing,” to be a great American novel;
as he drives he often listens to books on tape such as Sue Grafton’s alphabet mysteries—nothing too detailed, in case he misses some of the story.
It has also been a pleasure and a privilege to work with the visiting authors for the Pierce County Reads program. I was lucky enough to spend a day with Alexander McCall Smith and David Oliver Rellin, in conjunction with the ‘Pierce County Reads programs.’. Both are very interesting and engaging conversationalists.”
In Pierce County, the Steilacoom branch library was the first public library in the state—established in 1858, with books purchased in San Francisco and shipped north on one of Capt. Lafayette Balch’s ships—marked its sesquicentennial in 2008.
That library’s books can be viewed in the Steilacoom Historical Museum at 1801 Rainier Street. Museum operates from Noon to 5 p.m. on Weekends, and from 3-5 p.m on Wednesdays during the summer. Original library books are not in circulation.
America’s public library system began between 1883-1929 when Scottish-American businessman and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie provided grants for 1,689 libraries in the U.S. The first of his public libraries opened in 1883 in Carnegie’s hometown of Dunfermline. The first American Carnegie library was built in 1888 in Braddock, PA.