Turners Station cannot keep books Battle for library is unsuccessful

February 17, 1993|By Frank D. Roylance | Frank D. Roylance,Staff Writer

Baltimore County library officials have said "no" to Turners Station residents who asked that the books be left behind when their tiny library is closed today.

If neighborhood volunteers want to run an after-school study hall in the community-owned library building in the isolated working-class community near Dundalk, the county will leave its tables and chairs behind, said Charles W. Robinson, county library director.

"But all books will be moved to North Point [library]" starting today, he wrote in a memo to County Executive Roger B. Hayden's office. "No volunteer community can afford to operate a library, which includes tens of thousands of dollars every year for current books."

The 50-year-old Turners Station library -- with 3,600 books -- was the smallest of eight mini-libraries ordered closed last week as part of a reduction of county services by Mr. Hayden. Also lost was the community's full-time recreation supervisor, Maxwell Brooks, who oversaw a variety of programs for adults and children at the Fleming Community Building. The county hopes the programs can continue under part-time supervision by staff in Dundalk.

About 200 residents met with county officials last night in a hot, crowded and sometimes angry meeting to demand the preservation of their library and recreation programs. "You've taken our schools from us, and you're going to take our library from us, and you're not going to leave us squat diddly," Phyllis Seward said.

Linwood Jackson, another Turners Station resident, warned, "We need recreation down here. If you leave the youth without recreation, something's going to go wrong."

Peggy Patterson, president of Turners Station Concerned Citizens, has said county officials "are not protective or supportive of Turners Station. . . . If dollars have to be cut, why can't the top-drawer people take cuts in salaries? All we're asking for is a few books and a library, and a place for our children and somebody to direct our children in safe recreation."

Mr. Robinson said Rep. Helen Delich Bentley, R-Md.-2nd, asked him last week to leave the books behind and let community volunteers run the library. Mrs. Patterson asked that the library be kept open and staffed by the county in exchange for free rent and utilities from the community. But Mr. Robinson rejected both appeals.

"I'm not going to argue that the library wasn't an asset to the community," Mr. Robinson said. "Whether small, medium or large, [a library] . . . is a very important symbol to a community. Unfortunately, we cannot afford symbols anymore."

Countywide, he said, the average book circulates almost nine times a year. By comparison, the Turners Station library, with 3,600 books, has an annual circulation of 10,000, which is about three times a year per book.

The cost of operating the Turners Station library, Mr. Robinson said, is small -- about $40,000. Of that, $10,000 goes to personnel and $6,000 to $10,000 for materials. But with such a small circulation, he said, "the money spent for books was not a good bargain."

The decision to close it was also one of "fairness," he said, since the decision was made to close all the county's mini-libraries.

The county simply can't operate the small convenience libraries anymore and still buy an adequate number of books for the system, he said.

The county also closed the nearby Dundalk mini-library. Residents of both Dundalk and Turners Station will have to use the full-service North Point branch. Turners Station leaders say that's too far for their kids -- about three miles and one bus transfer away.

But Mr. Robinson said, "There are thousands and thousands of children who do not live within walking distance of public libraries in Baltimore County. Their parents take them, just as they take them to many other places."

But many residents said they don't have cars. Some at last night's meeting said they frankly don't want their kids to go to North Point because of racial tensions. Turners Station is predominantly black, and Dundalk and North Point are mostly white.

"No one has mentioned this, but I'm not going to let my kid catch a bus into Dundalk knowing she may not come back in one piece; it's a hostile environment," said Mickey Jefferson.

Library officials urged the community to try to solve the transportation problem with car pools or church buses. "As black people, we have all had difficulties before. We can deal with it," said library board member Patricia Turner, who is black.

A North Point Library staffer, Pamela Brown, urged residents to use her library, which has 150,000 books, computers and staff resources. "We can serve them best if we can have access to them where the resources are," she said. The layoff of Turners Station's recreation supervisor, Maxwell Brooks, has also worried the community's residents. He was one of nine center supervisors lost to the budget ax. Wayne R. Harman, county recreation director, said Mr. Brooks' duties will be assumed as an added, part-time responsibility by personnel at the Dundalk Recreation Center.

"It's a devastating blow to [Turners Station residents], and I appreciate that," he said. But "if the volunteers step forward, I think their programs will continue."

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