MOUNT AIRY — Asking the local librarian to let you know when your favorite novel is returned will now cost you 30 cents per notice.
In light of this year's county and state budget woes and an economic situation likely to worsen, Carroll County Public Library board members reluctantly passed the new fee at their monthly meeting Wednesday night.
Members also created a furlough policy in case money is cut from library budgets next year.
"We are passing a reserve fee tied to the cost of postage that can be raised as postage rates increase at the discretion of the director," said Gail Griffith, the library's assistant director.
Fees will only be charged to patrons when reserve notices must be mailed out, Griffith said. Direct borrowing from other branches -- in which the patron calls the library to find out if the book is in -- will not require a fee, she said.
Board members said they were hesitant initially to enact the fee since it goes against their principles of having a free library.
In the past, members have fought suggestions from county officials that they charge for lending videos to patrons, insisting that fees might make materials unavailable for some county residents.
"It hurts like the dickens to charge 30 cents (for reserves)," said board member Mary Lou Dewey.
Members were also concerned that students or patrons of the smaller branches may be penalized because they often reserve the ooks they need.
However, study by the library staff showed that most students would avoid the fee because they reserve books by direct borrowing. Research also showed that regardless of size, each county library generated the same ratio of reserves as compared to the circulation at each branch.
Board members said they enacted the fee because they fear additional cuts to the materials budget.
To help alleviate the county budget crunch, board members were forced in February to cut $171,438 from the money set aside to purchase new materials next year.
"Just looking at this year, the problems with the county and the state, we're not going to get anything in additional money," said member Scott Markle. "We have to start looking at where we can make moneyand save money. Postage is not a service we at the Carroll County Public Library provide."
Nevertheless, board members rejected Markle's suggestion that the fee be 50 cents to cover postage and handling.
"I am opposed to charging 50 cents because handling is a service we provide," said Dewey.
In addition, members recognized that the fee would be easier for the public to accept if it only covered postage.
"The public doesn't have the benefit of our discussions," saidmember Marty Haskins. "All they see is that fines have gone up, the materials budget has gone down and now we're charging a fee."
The new fee is in line with what other counties are charging for reserves, director Martha Makosky told members.
Libraries in Baltimore City and Frederick, Harford, Montgomery and Prince George's counties each charge 50 cents per reserve, while Baltimore County charges 55 cents, she said.
Howard County's 35-cent per-reserve fee is likely to increase, and Anne Arundel County is considering a charge for reserves because of state and county budget cuts, Makosky said.
The furlough policy passed by the board Wednesday night will be used as a lastresort if state and county money is again cut from the budget next year.
"We cannot cut the materials budget any more or we won't havea store with goods on the shelf," said Makosky.
In step one of the policy, all employees would be given an opportunity to take voluntary unpaid leave.
If the money saved through voluntary furloughs does not make up the deficit, all employees will be required to take unpaid leave.
Libraries would be closed for a specified number of days throughout the fiscal year to be determined by the board.
Whilelibrary employees are not happy about the policy, they understand that it is a precautionary step the board had to take, said Makosky. "The staff is aware of the policy and feel it is a way to address the problem fairly," she said.