When Arlene Anderson became manager of the Arbutus branch of the Baltimore County Library on Sulphur Spring Road eight years ago, she said, the patrons were "mostly older, retired people."
However, that's changed dramatically, and the library staff is hoping to change, too, if the County Council approves a proposal to move the branch across the street into a warehouse in an industrial park.
Since 1985, the volume of books and other materials circulated from the Arbutus branch has increased by 79 percent -- a reflection of the new homes being built in the southwestern county and the increasing numbers of young families with children replacing the older residents.
"This is a very interesting community," Anderson said, citing the nearby campuses of the University of Maryland Baltimore County and Catonsville Community College, mixed with the older, blue-collar families and the young families now replacing them.
The increased usage has caused a space squeeze for the one-floor library, which has 8,000 square feet. But that is not the ,, only problem with the brick building that the county has leased since 1960. It needs repairs and has no access for handicapped people. A concrete ramp in front of the old building is for deliveries, Anderson said, and is too steep for wheelchairs.
The 4,000-square-foot basement floor of the current library is empty and could be converted to library space. But Director Charles W. Robinson says expanding to two levels would mean hiring librarians and clerks, which is a no-no given today's budget crisis.
The library now has 11 full-time clerks and librarians and 15 part-time workers, some of whom work just a few hours a week.
Robinson sees a novel solution. He hopes to get council approval late this month to move into the Arbutus Business Center next to Interstate 95 near the Beltway, and just across Benson Avenue from the current library.
It would be the first county library to use warehouse space, he said. The building's current tenant, the Thomasville Galleries furniture showroom, is due to move this spring. The lease on the current library building expires in June.
Andrew Hryniewicz, 31, a graduate student who moved to Arbutus from Guilford in Baltimore to cut his living costs, is one patron who favors the move.
"The county seems to have a really innovative library system," he said. "It's set up much more like a shop." He compared the bright displays in county libraries to what he described as more sober displays in city branches.
Lenora Rau, whose husband is handicapped, said the new quarters would mean "better parking and access."
Frances Cohen, another patron who said she lives inside the city but goes to the county library, questioned whether more expensive quarters are needed in these tight budget times. "It's very convenient here," she said.
The move, Robinson and Anderson said, would solve the physical problems in the current building, and would cost no more in the long run. But it would cost more in the short run which means council approval isn't automatic when the decision on the lease comes up late this this month.
Leasing the warehouse would cost $53,834 more than current costs for one floor at the old building, including $300,000 worth of improvements the landlord would provide to convert warehouse space into a cozy library setting. If the library expanded to two floors in the old building, the difference in lease costs would be $13,194, not counting staffing needed for the new level.
The warehouse is larger (at 15,800 square feet), is all on one floor, eliminating problems of access to the handicapped, and is a new building, meaning no repairs would be expected soon.
Robinson said the county is responsible for repairs to the old building. A new roof and making the branch accessible to the handicapped would cost $300,000 to $500,000.
The old building has only 30 parking places, 24 of which were filled 15 minutes after the 10 a.m. opening one day earlier this week. The warehouse has at least 80 parking spaces.
The switch is favored by Councilwoman Berchie Lee Manley, R-1st, who represents Arbutus.
"I'm supportive of it," Manley said. She said the "actual cost will be less" when all the factors are considered.