What does 50 cents buy nowadays -- a cup of coffee, maybe a pack of gum?
Although it doesn't buy much, one Glen Burnie resident doesn't want his 50 cents spent on reserving library books.
And Norman Schwarz, of Oakwood Road, is so sure that under state law the library shouldn't be charging him, he's willing to go to small claims court to prove his point.
At issue is a new 50-cent fee being charged by county libraries to reserve materials. The fee went into effect July 1.
Mr. Schwarz said his reading of state law and an attorney general's opinion regarding library fees convinced him the library should not be charging residents to reserve books.
"The law clearly states that library resources must be provided for free. And free means free," said the long-time Glen Burnie resident.
The law specifies that libraries can charge for "ancillary conveniences like copiers, typewriters and computers for management of personal data."
"They can only charge for those three things," said Mr. Schwarz, who estimated he's been using county libraries two or three times a week for the past 25 years.
Mr. Schwarz's unique hobby, studying Babylonian mathematics and astronomy, requires that he obtain most books through the Maryland Inter-Library Loan Organization, known as MILO. To get these materials, patrons must fill out a reserve request, Mr. Schwarz said. And those requests, used to notify patrons by mail that their materials are available, will now cost 50 cents apiece.
Linda Mielke, associate administrator of county libraries, said the reserve fee is allowed under the law, since it is a supplementary service.
"This is a self-selecting fee," she said. "You can avoid this charge and still use the library. But if you want something fast, you'll have to pay the fee."
Ms. Mielke said about 40 percent of the library's reserve requests are for best-sellers and in-demand books, and the remaining 60 percent are for materials that simply are not on the shelves when patrons want them. The reserve system allows a patron to request to be notified as soon as the materials are available.
Other library systems, such as those in Howard and Baltimore counties, also charge reserve fees.
"This is not a charge to use the materials. It's a charge for the service, which is above and beyond the basic services," said Marvin Thomas, library director in Howard County.
Until July 1, 1985, Anne Arundel County also charged a reserve fee, said Ms. Mielke, but the fee was for transferring materials between branches.
Since some branches had large collections and others very small collections, patrons of the smaller branches often had to borrow from the larger ones.
Once the system made a concerted effort to "equalize" the collections, she said, the fee was no longer needed. However, since then, more and more patrons have begun using the reserve system for best-sellers and other materials, making the handling fee again necessary.
"We don't think it's against state law," she said.