County, HCC are asked to cooperate on library

April 25, 1993|By Phyllis Brill | Phyllis Brill,Staff Writer

Calling for more "creative thinking" during lean economic times, County Executive Eileen M. Rehrmann has asked the county library to cooperate with Harford Community College in developing a centralized resource library.

The library would serve the general public as well as students and others with research needs and might relieve pressure on the overburdened Bel Air Library, the system's central branch and its best equipped library.

Mrs. Rehrmann's proposal, made in a meeting with library trustees and college officials Tuesday, represents the latest in a series of suggestions for meeting the library needs of a burgeoning population. The Harford County Library has been wrestling with options for expanding the Bel Air branch for some time.

James Massey, the county library's coordinator of administrative services, says a combined facility could serve residents whose needs are not sufficiently handled by the community college or the public library.

"Both of them are currently inadequate for the research needs of people in college or working on a master's level," he said.

The Bel Air Library, with a collection of 259,000 items, is almost three times the size of the next-largest branch, at Fallston.

It serves more than 60,000 people and is responsible for 41 percent of the system's circulation from 10 branches. As the central branch, it is the only one that meets the needs of college students and other researchers.

Still, it operates in only 17,000 square feet in a 33-year-old building, which officials say is grossly inadequate.

In a five-year capital plan sent to the county executive last month, the library board outlined two options for the Bel Air expansion. One proposal calls for demolishing the library and building a 45,000-square-foot, multilevel structure on the same site, at Pennsylvania and Hickory avenues, at a cost of $6.9 million.

A second option calls for building a Bel Air branch on seven county-owned acres adjacent to Wakefield Elementary School, off Route 24, for $5.9 million.

Library officials have favored the second option, noting that it would cost less and offer more space for expansion, but Bel Air town commissioners, some county officials -- including Mrs. Rehrmann and council President Jeffrey D. Wilson -- and a small but vocal contingent of citizens have opposed leaving the downtown site.

The suggestion from Mrs. Rehrmann for sharing resources comes at a time when cooperation between the public and college libraries is expanding.

The Harford County Library instituted an electronic data research system last month that links all the branches and will be extended soon to the community college. Public library patrons and college students will have catalog access to both libraries' collections by fall. And long-term plans call for sharing electronic access to full texts of both collections, including books, periodicals, government documents and reference materials.

With a combined library -- probably on the college campus -- the county could buy additional data bases and other resources that would be too expensive for the libraries to buy independently.

"We're ready and willing to jump into this partnership," said Gerry Yeager, head of library and information services at Harford Community College. "We're both working with extra tight

budgets, both for materials and staff, and we must think of innovative ways to get the job done."

"With the integration of data systems, this is probably a good time to set out a work plan," said Mrs. Rehrmann. She said there is a possibility of getting state and federal grants to support the effort.

"This is a real innovation," said Ms. Yeager. "It's not something that has been done over and over. But there are certain resources that just logically belong together."

Mr. Massey agreed. "Our county's educational level is going up, and

these needs are not being met," he said. But he and other county library officials are hesitant to give blanket support to a new facility along Route 22.

"We do worry about the location at the community college," said Irene Padilla, the library's interim director. "It's not an area where we see growth in the population coming. We don't see the growth there that we do along Route 24 and in Abingdon."

The library has requested $1 million to buy a site in Abingdon for a library. Mr. Massey said the need for a library on the Route 24 corridor will be critical in the next decade, even if the Bel Air branch were to move to the Wakefield site. He said that 150,000 people are projected to be living in the Bel Air-Abingdon area by 2000, and "that's much too large an area for any one branch to handle."

Though two feasibility studies have shown that the Bel Air building cannot expand vertically because of structural restraints branch out horizontally because of lack of land, the county has appropriated $50,000 in the fiscal 1994 budget to study the feasibility of renovating and improving the Bel Air branch.

County administrator Larry Klimovitz said the tide may be turning in favor of the downtown location. He said Bel Air has tentatively agreed to rent the county land for a library parking lot off Courtland Street and has "agreed to consider" parting with adjacent parkland that would be essential to expanding the library horizontally at that site.

"A lot of the success of this [combined] library is going to depend on how the spokes of the wheel support the hub," Mr. Klimovitz said of the county executive's proposal, noting that the other branches may have to pick up more community services. He suggested that a new research-oriented library might mean the Bel Air branch doesn't need to be a "central" library.

"I wish we could fund people's needs at the level of their expectations," Mrs. Rehrmann said, "but there are going to be limited fiscal resources in the '90s. To meet our needs we are going to have to be creative."

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