Hayden's Library Decision

February 11, 1993

Will he or won't he?

When Baltimore County Executive Roger Hayden announces the details of his long-anticipated government reduction plan today, will he or won't he carry out the proposal to shut down nine county libraries? Will he or won't he stand up to the protests of the affected neighborhoods?

The pattern among leaders of big, troubled subdivisions nationwide has been to put libraries on the chopping block -- and then yank them away when hit with the inevitable community uproar.

Witness the politicians of Baltimore and the mess they've made of the Enoch Pratt Free Library. Rather than do the responsible thing by consolidating the Pratt network, the city has maintained some branches on a part-time basis. This approach might placate voters, but it has had a baleful effect on the Pratt system overall.

Neighbors of the county libraries to be shuttered would be thrilled if Mr. Hayden granted them a reprieve. The person who would be most disappointed, interestingly enough, is Charles Robinson, who happens to be the county library director.

Given his druthers (and a fat budget), Mr. Robinson would have even more than the 25 branches now in the system, which usually posts circulation figures topped only by those of Los Angeles and New York libraries. But with the county facing a $32 million deficit -- and the library system about $2 million in the red -- Mr. Robinson realizes he can no longer run such a large network and continue offering a high level of service to the public.

What the director envisions is a system of about a dozen top-flight branches around the county. Trimming nine libraries, including eight "mini" or "satellite" branches, would be "a very, very good compromise," he says, because it would preserve his top priority: the budget for buying books, audio and video materials and the other resources that draw droves of people to the county libraries.

In the current fiscal climate, Mr. Robinson would just as soon close the eight small branches, which get the least amount of use in the system, and put these funds toward strengthening the remaining libraries. He sees consolidation posing minimal hardship in the commuter culture of Baltimore County, where most suburbanites wouldn't mind a longer car or bus ride to another library if their local branch closed.

The question is, will Roger Hayden have the guts to ignore the community pressure and do what's best for the county library system? Or won't he?

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