Population Boom Strains Swamped County Libraries

October 07, 1990|By Freda Freeman | Freda Freeman,Contributing writer

Story Time sessions at the Bel Air branch of Harford County Library fill up during the first hour of registration.

Forty to 50 library patrons have been known to stand in seemingly never-ending lines at the checkout desk during Story Time registration.

A mother continuously pushed the redial button on her telephone trying to register her child. By the time the call went through, the class was full.

"That's very depressing for us," said Gregory D. Wollon, Bel Air branch manager. "We would like to add more, but we don't have enough staff to add as many as we need."

A booming county population -- 181,000 -- combined with a limited budget makes it difficult for county libraries to keep pace with patrons' needs, said library administrators.

Story Time, a six-week session of stories, songs, games and other activities designed for preschoolers, is just one example.

Library Director Philip A. Place admitted that the above scenarios recalled by Wollon are being played out all over the county.

To meet the increasing demands of patrons, Place said, "we need money, the places to do it, and the people to do it with."

Susan U. Burdette, library publicity manager, said, "The public would like us to be open more hours. We don't have the staff to take care of that. We could use more staff and books."

In July, the library hit a record high circulation -- more than 2 million books had been checked out.

Library circulation increased 6 percent to 2.1 million in July 1990 compared with 1.9 million in July 1989.

Library administrators and librarians answered 193,094 reference questions between June 30, 1990 and July 1, 1989, taking about six minutes to answer each.

Dorothy E. Pittman, coordinator of adult services, said the library does its best, and she would like to see it do more.

"It would always help to have more resources, more staff and to provide more programs," she said.

Wollon believes the library meets adult reading needs fairly well, but would like more children's programs.

About 2,400 children registered for the Bel Air branch's summer reading program. More than 1,100 children completed the program by reading 10 books. These figures reflect a 500 percent increase over last year.

Frances V. Sedney, coordinator of children's services, said that children's services at county libraries are the best in the state. However, she added that the amazing influx of children is cause for concern.

"Our difficulty is going to be to maintain that level of service. To do that, it takes dedication on the part of librarians, who are already over extending themselves, and money for materials."

Sedney conceded that there aren't enough Story Time hours, but contended that the libraries meet children's book needs by having the right books available at the right times.

"If a child is interested in fire engines, you can't ask the child to wait. Children tend to be interested in something for six months, and then they're interested in something else."

Sedney fears that children's services, like other library services, will suffer unless money is poured into the county's public library system.

The Bel Air branch is the most used of the county's nine branch libraries, reflecting the tremendous growth the area has experienced in recent years. The library tends to be busiest between 3 to 4 p.m., particularly on Mondays. Saturdays are also extremely busy.

"Saturdays are wild, particularly at Bel Air. Forty-three percent circulation of the whole library system is in Bel Air. That's wild for that little building," Place said.

The onslaught begins in February when school students are assigned term papers and doesn't subside until May.

"In February, we keep three librarians at the desk. Sometimes they're standing with a phone on each ear and a long line of people in front of them. We answer 35 to 40 questions an hour during the winter," Wollon said.

Library administrators are assessing the level of service the library provides countywide and at the individual branches and developing a plan based on population projects, school enrollment and land use.

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