Library changes put on hold

January 31, 1993|By Carol L. Bowers | Carol L. Bowers,Staff Writer

Plans to move the main Harford library out of Bel Air and close the Highland community branch have been temporarily shelved.

Philip A. Place, director of the county library system, said the plans, though on hold, have not been abandoned.

"We're trying to make change, and change is difficult," said Mr. Place, who has argued it is not cost-effective to keep the small Highland branch open 13 hours a week.

By closing the branch, Mr. Place said, the library system could expand the collection and staff at the Whiteford branch four miles away and increase hours there from 30 to 36 a week.

But County Council President Jeffrey D. Wilson accused Mr. Place of "playing the game of dividing the North Harford community."

"The issue with the Highland library is the Bel Air problem all over again -- the same sort of insensitivity to the community," Mr. Wilson said.

Last year, Mr. Place's suggestion to build a new Bel Air branch behind the Motor Vehicle Administration on Route 24 ran aground after town residents objected to moving the main branch from the center of Bel Air. Some council members also opposed the suggestion because building a new branch would cost $9 million over three years.

Mr. Wilson, who was president of the Highland Community Association when the group arranged to lease space in its center for a library branch seven years ago, accused Mr. Place of breaking a commitment to keep the tiny branch open.

But Mr. Place countered that he agreed to keep the Highland branch open only until construction of the Whiteford branch.

The library leases space in the Highland Community Association building for $9,000 a year, Mr. Place said. The branch operates with two part-time employees, and has an annual operating budget of $25,000 and circulation of 800 to 1,000 books a month, he said.

In a Dec. 4 letter, Mr. Wilson told Mr. Place he would oppose the branch's closing "in every way I can."

Mr. Wilson also warned Bruce G. Berkey, chairman of the library Board of Trustees, of possible financial backlash.

In a Dec. 3 letter to Mr. Berkey, Mr. Wilson wrote: "I think when you raise the specter of closing a community's facility, you invite the people of Harford County to make a closer scrutiny of how you're spending their money in other ways.

"I'm not sure the library board really wants to invite that type of public participation in the budget line items of the library's budget."

Mr. Wilson also questioned how cost-effective closing the Highland branch would be.

"Let's see. They want $9 million to build a central library, not to mention the opposition to that proposal, and then they say, 'By the way, we can't afford to operate a $25,000 library we've got going today,' " Mr. Wilson said. "What is wrong with this picture?"

Violet Merryman, a member of the Highland association's board of trustees who recently retired from the county school board, agreed that money isn't the issue with the Highland branch.

"The Highland library, as small as it is, is an integral part of the community center," Mrs. Merryman said.

"For many children in that community, it's the place where they get their first exposure to books. I don't think there's anything more important before formal schooling than to form a love of books."

Mrs. Merryman also noted there's a nursery school near the Highland Community Association center, and senior citizen have regular book club meetings there.

"Whiteford is only four miles away, but it's a problem of transportation for seniors," she said.

"I know Mr. Place and the Board of Trustees need to do what they must to serve the most people, but from the time we organized into a community association, people have wanted to participate at Highland. You don't just cast those contributions aside."

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