``Welcome to the 20th century,'' said patron Rachael Smyth of Haddonfield.
The library, founded in 1803, has been in its neocolonial building in the center of town on Haddon and Tanner Avenues since 1919 and houses many local history materials. The borough has always been fiercely protective of its history and traditions, but library patrons said the time for change had come.
The growing clientele of the library, which has one of the largest per-capita circulations in South Jersey, has put pressure on the staff to find more efficient ways to serve patrons. The Friends of the Library are looking into ways to expand the building, but in the meantime, they wanted to bring the technology up to speed.
Library officials said they hoped the computerized search system would allow visitors to find specific items more quickly by using keyword searches. They also want it to allow patrons to explore subjects at their leisure, meandering through the different searches armed with only partial titles of books.
Some older staff members and visitors may find the new system hard to learn and get used to, but Rauschenberger said that's why the library has made the transition slowly, to acquaint the staff with the system before the public starts using it. Extra staff will be available in the fall to help patrons find what they need.
The new system cost about $200,000, but the borough saved money by having library staff enter the records themselves over the years, rather than contracting out that work.
The library already has three CD-ROM stations that are heavily used, and visitors say they are excited about using the eight new search stations that are already set up.
Teddy Jamieson, 8, of Haddonfield, said he thinks the new system is ``cool.'' This summer, he has arrowheads on his mind, and he plans to use the computers to find books about them.
``A computer can hold more information than a card catalog can,'' said the self-proclaimed computer expert. ``It's a really good idea because they're a lot faster.''
For those who might be worried that the computer is threatening to replace the old-fashioned pleasure of thumbing through a book with your hands, Rauschenberger said he doubted that would ever happen - at least not in Haddonfield.
``For such a small town, we have a very sophisticated readership. There is a commitment to continuity and tradition and there is a commitment to change as well. We as a library are still very book-oriented, and frankly, I don't see that going out of style or usefulness.''
As for the old card catalog, the ``bulwark'' of the local library, Rauschenberger said it's just too big to keep around for nostalgia's sake. He does plan to keep a drawer or two, for historical purposes.
``There will be people soon who've never even seen a card catalog.''