Letting a good library system down JTC

January 03, 1994

After four years of spending cuts, Carroll County's library system has lots of catching up to do if it is to replenish its collection of books, records and videos. The library's board of trustees just approved an increase for new book purchases, but even that additional sum won't come close to restoring the collections to their previous levels of excellence.

The trustees have budgeted $553,000 for materials, an increase of $95,000 from last year. According to the rule of thumb that between 16 and 20 percent of a library system's budget should be devoted to buying new books, the proposed amount is inadequate. To reach the minimum suggested level, the system would have to spend about $768,000 out of its proposed $4.8 million budget, or about 40 percent more than is planned.

Neglecting new purchases is starting to take a toll on circulation. True, the system's circulation is Maryland's highest, but the level of borrowing in the Westminster and Eldersburg branches was down last year. The opening of the Mount Airy branch last winter may be partly responsible, but Library Director Linda Mielke said patrons have been complaining to her staff that there aren't enough current books on the shelves.

Even though the library administrators did their best to protect the children's collection from cutbacks, replacement purchases were slashed along with adult books and periodicals. With half of the library's borrowing in children's books, the favorite children's volumes are subjected to a lot of wear and tear. Since they could not be replaced during the past three years, a great many of the favorite children's volumes are no longer available.

Library administrators estimate the system would have to spend about $145,000 to restore the children's collection. Mrs. Mielke has submitted a supplemental request of $70,000, less than half what is needed, to partly bring back the collection to its previous level.

The reality is that the three years of cutbacks have created significant holes in the libraries' collections. Many books published during that period but not bought by the system are out of print. Periodical collections will be incomplete. Not much can be done to restore them. This experience should be a lesson should the county face similar budget problems in the future.

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