Monday, October 24, 2011

The Howson Branch of the Austin Public Library

I'm just back from a trip to Texas. While in Austin, I had a few free hours and the use of a car, so I visited the branch library where I had my first library job. The Howson Branch of the Austin Public Library has changed a bit since I worked there as a desk assistant from 1976 to 1978 while I attended library school. The change was obvious as I approached.

When I worked at the Howson branch, the lawn was just grass. There may have been a few close-trimmed shrubs around the building and trees close to the street, but it was not the garden it is today. There are numerous perennials rated for the Austin climate dressing up the place. It would be nice to sit outside the library and read now.

Of course, the inside of the library has changed. We used a camera-based checkout system when I worked at the Howson branch. We would photo the patron's card with the book pockets and the numbered date cards. If the card did not return, the microfilm would be checked months later, and a notice to return the book would be mailed to the patron.

We had no online catalog. I'm not sure that we even had a card catalog for the branch. Every six months, the main library sent us a newly printed paperbound book catalog. If my memory is clear - a big if - we had one big floppy volume for authors, one for titles, and another volume for subjects. Covers were gray or pale blue or pastel pink.

There was a small collection of vinyl record albums. CDs and DVDs did not exist. Now there are plenty of both, as well as downloads from the website. There were no public use computers like there are now. We had the red version of The Reader's Guide to Periodical Literature - the edition with fewer titles. We had lots of large print books and mysteries. I remember reading Sports Illustrated and The New Yorker on my breaks. There was a big meeting room which sometimes hosted the library trustee meetings.

My favorite memory is helping Sally Ann, the children's librarian, with the puppet show production of Strega Nona. Children laughed as the yarn flew everywhere. Poor Big Anthony!

The least-expected coolest thing I found on my visit was the electric auto recharging station in the library parking lot. Recharge your mind and your electric car at the same time at the library.

No one knew the branch librarian Marian Laws, who I remember fondly. I have since discovered that she died September 28, 2010. I hope she saw the refurbished library.

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