Even on dreary afternoons, when rain splashes against the windows and traffic crawls along Crain Highway, Jean Guite has plenty of time to relax with a book at work.
Only a dozen faithful readers usuallyshow up at the Kuethe Reading Center each day, even on rainy days that seem best suited to curling up with a book. Guite, a librarian who works twice a week at the 59-year-old library, often has more than an hour free between customers.
"There just aren't that many people who come here," she said. "Onsome days, I will open up, and right away, they're here. But a lot of days, there aren't many all day."
For the number of people it serves, Kuethe costs more to operate than any other library branch -- which is why its days are numbered.
The Board of Library Trustees, anticipating that the county's 1992 budget will not include money for Kuethe, has ordered the reading center closed as of June 30. The library board president, retired Adm. Maurice Rindskopf, announced the closing in a March 15 letter to the board that administers Kuethe.
"The final word will be when the budget is developed for 1992, but the indications are that there will be no money to continue operating the Kuethe Reading Center," said Diane Rey, a library spokeswoman.
Kuethe cost $20,844 to operate this year and accounted for only 5,000of the 4.3 million library items circulated system-wide. In March, patrons borrowed 435 books and other items at Kuethe, as compared with66,799 items at the North County Regional Library, located 1 mile away, across from Harundale Mall.
"Our caravan, which delivers (books) to the homebound, has a higher circulation than Kuethe," Rey said."It costs (the library) $1.50 for each checkout throughout the library, but at Kuethe, it costs about $2."
Kuethe library dates back to 1934,when Mr. and Mrs. William F. Kuethe of Glen Burnie decided their town needed a library. They built the brick building at 3 Crain Highway NE and set up an eight-member board to administer the facility.Kuethe became part of the county library system in 1957, with the board retaining ownership of the building.
Jan Callison, who oversees North County area libraries, said the number of people visiting theKuethe Reading Center has dwindled steadily since the North County Regional Library opened in 1969.
Most of the customers who walk up the stairs, worn smooth over the years by children scampering inside to read Nancy Drew mysteries, nowadays are seniors. Many remember going to the Kuethe Reading Center to check out their first book as a child.
"I came here when I was just a little girl," said one elderlywoman who lives at Glen Square, a senior housing community down the street. "I remember reading every one of the Bobbsey Twins (books)."
But the children's room now sits vacant most days.
Although some Glen Burnie residents are upset at losing a landmark, few are surprised by the closing. "For the amount of people using it, the expense is not worth it," said Al Lipin, a former state senator who fought tokeep the reading center from closing 22 years ago.
When the NorthCounty library opened, offering services the little two-room readingcenter couldn't begin to provide, county officials suggested closingKuethe. But the neighborhood rallied to its defense, arguing that a community reading center was important for seniors and families.
"They had closed it up and emptied it all out, but we got enough people together to persuade them to change that," Lipin said, recalling the 1969 campaign.
Lipin and other community leaders aren't sure whether they want to lobby to keep Kuethe from closing this time. Some residents have suggested the building should be used instead as an archives for Glen Burnie or as a law library.
A covenant requires that the building be kept for community use. Once the library books are removed from the shelves, the board of directors might permit the Anne Arundel Historical Society or another non-profit agency to use the building, said Fred William Kuethe, head of the Kuethe board.
Councilman Edward Middlebrooks, D-Severn, who used the library as a child, said he wants to keep using the building for some library-type use.
"It has a library kind of feeling," Middlebrooks said. "There arebooks upstairs and downstairs, and hardwood floors. It has its own charm."
A decision on the future of the reading center will be announced within the next 60 days, Kuethe said.