Carroll Sends Its Library Home

September 07, 1993

Already the state leader in per capita library usage, Carroll County -- the Maryland subdivision that really reads -- has recently taken a major step toward expanding its usership circulation figures even further.

Carroll's library catalog now can be linked with home computers. Library card holders who have home computers can scan the catalog from their screens, see what books are available and where, and reserve the books they want -- all from home with a single telephone call.

By the end of the year, the library linkup will allow home browsers to search through and print out articles from some 100 popular magazines. Connections to the libraries of Carroll Community College and Western Maryland College will be completed this autumn. Eventually, the county library hopes to join statewide and worldwide links with other library catalogs.

Carroll becomes only the second library system in the Baltimore metropolitan area to offer free dial-in computer access to its entire 410,000-item collection. Howard County began similar service two years ago.

The advantages of the system are considerable: access to a literal world of information, more efficient use of collections, wider circulation of materials, fewer wasted trips to branches for books that are already checked out, greater access for the homebound.

But there are questions about this service. Carroll's public libraries spent nearly $600,000 to install this computer service, to the benefit of a small minority of residents who happen to own home computers. Telephone lines reserved for the home computer connections cost the library $100 a month, and more lines are sure to be added. This is a library, remember, that recently groused about the minimal cost of preserving and housing Carroll County's genealogical heritage.

The 24-hour home-access capability of computer owners will also make them preferred users of the public library, with first-claim .. capabilities on the new best-sellers, the most popular compact discs and cassettes, and scarce homework research volumes.

Certainly, the forward-looking plan of Carroll's library system deserves commendation. Other libraries are sure to follow. But it is up to the library's stewards to assure that the system does not become an elitist privilege subsidized by the vast majority that lacks the access.

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