Libraries seek enhancement of computers

January 09, 1995|By Kerry O'Rourke | Kerry O'Rourke,Sun Staff Writer

Carroll County residents and public library officials have agreed the top priorities for the next fiscal year should be to expand computer capabilities and enlarge the Eldersburg branch.

The computer expansion would allow more residents to send electronic mail on the Internet, a worldwide computer system, county Public Libraries Director Linda Mielke said. Renovations at the South Carroll building will relieve crowding at the county's most-crammed branch, she said.

Another goal is to increase the budget to buy books and materials, she said. The library board of trustees has proposed spending almost $864,000 for books and materials for fiscal year 1996, about $169,000 more than in the current year. The fiscal year begins July 1.

Library officials said Friday they would consider a request from the Westminster City Council to open the Main Street branch Friday and Saturday nights and Sundays as part of an effort to draw people downtown.

"We would like to coordinate with them," Ms. Mielke said.

But adding about 15 hours a week to the schedule would cost an estimated $165,000 because the library would need to hire three or four full-time employees, she said.

"More hours means more circulation, and it means we would need more books, too," Ms. Mielke added.

City Council members want to lure more shoppers downtown and believe the library could help if it were open more hours. The council discussed the issue at a meeting Thursday.

The Westminster branch on Main Street now is open from 9:30 a.m. to 8:45 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday and Saturday.

Last year, Councilman Damian L. Halstad asked county officials if they would budget money to open the library Sundays, but they did not.

Ms. Mielke said the library board must discuss the issue. The county commissioners would have the final say when they approve the county budget in May.

The commissioners could not be reached for comment Friday.

Ms. Mielke said she would like to see the library's books and materials budget restored to prerecession levels before adding operating hours.

Board of trustees President Kathleen R. Campanella said Friday that the board would consider the request for more hours, but it must ensure that the branch could provide good service and have enough books.

The library's book budget was slashed beginning in fiscal 1991, because of the recession and state budget cuts. Spending has increased in the past few years, but still is not at the level officials would like, Ms. Mielke said.

Library officials would like to spend 20 percent of the operating budget on books and materials to keep the county's collection up-to-date, she said.

Book spending dropped as low as 12 percent of the budget in recent years, Ms. Mielke said. For fiscal 1996, the board is recommending the county spend $863,753 on books and

materials, or 16.5 percent of the total proposed operating budget of $5.2 million.

In the current year, the library is spending $694,720 on books and materials, or 14 percent of the total operating budget of about $5 million.

The library board proposed a capital budget for fiscal 1996 of $2.6 million, but the county Planning Commission recommended be reduced to $895,000.

The Planning Commission, which makes recommendations about which projects should be funded, approved the library's top two projects for next year. The commissioners have the final say.

The library board had asked that the Eldersburg expansion be done in two parts. The board requested $873,300 in fiscal 1996 and $731,300 in fiscal 1998. The board wants to add 10,000 square feet to the 14,723-square-foot branch.

The Planning Commission reduced the first part of the expansion request by $39,300.

For computer enhancements, the library board requested $61,000 for next year, and the Planning Commission approved the amount.

In the fall, 3,070 residents responded to a library survey rating the capital budget projects. Forty-one percent of those responding said the Eldersburg expansion should be the top priority; 25 percent said computer enhancements should be the top priority.

The library board also had requested $1.6 million to build a West Carroll branch in fiscal 1996. The Planning Commission delayed the project until fiscal 2000, because county officials have not found a site for the building.

The board also had asked for $58,300 to spend on renovations at various library buildings. The Planning Commission moved the request to the operating budget.

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