Workers fed up with old library Largest branch needs renovations, librarians assert

November 07, 1997|By Dana Hedgpeth | Dana Hedgpeth,SUN STAFF

Bookshelves are dry-rotting. Videos line window sills, makeshift carts and heaters. And there is a mildew smell from the leaky roof in the young adults reading area.

These scenes at the Howard County Central Library are all signs, county librarians say, of the need for long overdue renovations.

"We've waited and waited for the library to get the proper renovations for shelving and computer displays," said Janet Blumenthal, a part-time librarian. "Enough is enough."

In recent weeks, Blumenthal has asked each of Columbia's 10 village boards for letters of support to send to county officials to ensure the 16-year-old library's renovations come soon.

Since 1992, $2.4 million worth of renovations to the library has been requested but never approved as part of the county's capital budget. County officials say the library's renovations will be done in fiscal year 2000. But even that is not a guarantee because competition for capital budget funds is fierce.

"This is a county that cares very much about schools, and it is pretty tough to compete with them," said Ray Wacks, the county's budget director.

It's not just repairs that the facility needs, according to librarians who say the building has fallen behind the times.

"We were designed to be state-of-the-art, but what was 'in' in 1981 is no longer functional now because we're so much more technologically advanced," said Liz Lancaster, the library's manager. "We're continuing to expand our materials, but we're still in a building that was made just to hold books." The county's largest library, with about 1.4 million books for circulation and dozens of special collections, including law, medical and genealogy resources, touted its record collection, tapes and microfiche catalogs when it opened 16 years ago.

But the facility is having trouble keeping up now that the records have been augmented by compact discs, more than 20 computers have replaced the microfiche viewers, and videos and toys are part of the collection.

Librarians have learned to become creative in covering up the deterioration.

Because not all of the library's 6,000 videos will fit in the vertical shelves, some are displayed along window sills, on top of shelves, even on heaters.

"It's a horrific problem trying to look for videos here," said Cindy Hendrix of Columbia, as she looked for a tape. "Finding the titles with boxes that are always packed tightly into shelves makes it really frustrating."

In the young adults reading area, there is a faint smell of mildew from a water leak from the roof. Although the leaky roof in the young adults section was repaired this spring, water marks remain on ceilings and some furniture. Few patrons, librarians say, find the faded and dingy futon seats welcome places to sit.

In the children's area, books on tape are kept in plastic bags on circular hanging racks. Dozens of children's books are filed atop the packed shelves.

"It is quite difficult to find books here because the things you typically want aren't in order," said Kosa Kaotira of Laurel. "It takes a lot of time to find the books you want."

The narrow shelves, that were designed to hold the library's first microfiche machines, are now a tight fit for a computer, monitor and hard drive.

Wires that connect the computers' hard drives to their monitors dangle over desks. The legs are long gone from the stools that used to sit at computer stations, leaving patrons to stand at terminals.

At the circulation desk, layers of clear tape cover tears in the plastic-covered exit bars. In the staff areas, librarians cover holes in plasterboard walls with carts of books to be shelved.

"It's sad to see our library deteriorate to this level," said Louise Reimer, a retired 26-year librarian. "It's costing more, the longer we delay getting the renovations."

The proposed renovations would include improved sidewalk areas leading to the library, new lighting, furniture, shelving and a redesigned circulation desk. Some office space would be converted into public areas for books, videos and an enclosed study area.

When these renovations would be funded is not clear. The central library has competed for capital budget funds not only with schools, but also with a proposed $14 million complex in Glenwood in western Howard County that would include a library, gym, recreation area and other facilities. The complex is set to open in 2000.

"Columbia has always been proud of its central library, but now it's not really something to be proud of until it looks better," Lancaster said.

Pub Date: 11/07/97

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