Re-Cut the Pie To Save the LibrariesEditor: Baltimore...


October 07, 1991

Re-Cut the Pie To Save the Libraries

Editor: Baltimore County is not a tourist paradise. It has a few pretty spots (the Loch Raven Dam area, etc.), but interesting places to go on dull Sundays are few.

The county library system is a notable exception. The Towson library and its sister libraries throughout the county are veritable palaces of culture and true sources of stimulation for people of all ages. The Baltimore County Public Library System is one of the best known suburban library systems in the world. It is, by any measure, one of the best.

Local citizens and visitors alike can escape the Baltimore County dullness crisis by heading for any of the library system's conveniently placed branches. Even on Sundays, when three libraries are open for business during winter months (the Towson library is open on Sundays all year around). Dullness is only one of the problems the county library system solves.

A good public library system, financed generously by grateful taxpayers and supported by intelligent politicians, must be considered a survival service by one and all. In the modern age, it has come to be as vital as a reliable, sanitary water supply or as an efficient, honest police department.

This truth is especially so in the Maryland area, where citizen dependency on high quality public library services has been a widely acknowledged fact of life for many generations. There are good reasons why Maryland has more librarians per capita than almost any other state in the country (Maryland ranks fourth out of 50 states), and why two of the country's best library graduate schools are located within a 45-minute drive from Baltimore (UMCP and Catholic University).

Other locations in the nation and around the world can only dream about having convenient, high quality local public library services available to all citizens. Baltimore County is one of the few places where this dream has actually become a reality.

That's the good news. However, this being 1991, bad news is on the horizon, and closing in fast. Citizens and politicians had better react with unity and thoroughness if a major crisis and tragedy is to be averted. County library service is collapsing. The recent evidence is clear and abundant. This year, Sunday library service has been stopped in 12 of the 15 branches open on Sundays last year.

Of the three remaining county libraries remaining open for winter service, two (Randallstown and North Point) will open one month later and close one month earlier. The full-time equivalent staff numbers have been cut by 35 persons, down from 545 to 510. The county appropriation has been decreased by 2.3 per cent. Full-time staff members have been denied cost of living increases this year. Many part time staff members have been separated completely from county library work, or had their previous schedules severely cut.

This is not the time for citizens to shrug their shoulders, cluck their tongues and recite such helplessness mantras as "Well, what can anyone do?"

The fiscal 1992 county library budget is 2 percent of the overall county budget. That's not enough. Concerned and intelligent citizens should stand up and say so. If additional money can't be found, it's time to re-cut the pie.

It is emphatically not true that all government services are equal in value. The value of the county public library system is all out of proportion to its assigned budget. Citizens must recognize this and act. This will require organization at the grass roots level. County politicians and administrators are already up to their chins in problems and general confusion. They no doubt wonder what the voters think, and it's time for the voters to communicate.

We live in what has indeed become the information age. The role of the modern public library is to provide distribution of valuable information to all citizens, regardless of station or rank.

If we fail to recognize the threat presently faced by public libraries, and fail to protect libraries against that threat, our other survival efforts are not likely to mean much.

Dave Allen.


Need for Change

Editor: Another child was shot in Baltimore. When will we wake up to the fact that life is cheap today in the streets of the U.S.?

I don't know precisely where we should point the finger of blame for all this senseless violence.

Could it be caused by the proliferation of guns, the decline of morality, movie violence, lack of positive role models, drug wars or the growing gap between the rich and the poor?

I don't think that there is a single cause. Perhaps the fault lies within society and within ourselves. But we can't go on living this way. Something must change.

I think we must begin by somehow increasing the value of life. Our fellow human beings must become more than mere statistics, faceless pawns or anonymous victims.

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