Drive-through lanes en route to libraries

Eldersburg branch seeks convenience

March 17, 2000|By Jennifer McMenamin | Jennifer McMenamin,SUN STAFF

You can order hamburgers without getting out of your car. You can deposit a paycheck at the drive-through lane of a bank. In some communities, you can buy liquor, pick up prescription medicines and get married, all from your car's front seat.

A drive-up window for a library is the next logical step.

If Carroll County officials and their architect can find space for a drive-through lane around the brick library branch along the Liberty Road commercial strip in Eldersburg, patrons will be able to return and check out books from their cars.

"We know that those drive-through service windows have proved successful at other library branches, so we are exploring the possibility," said Ann Wisner of the Carroll County library system.

Banks built drive-through windows about 50 years ago, enabling customers to withdraw and deposit money from the safety of their cars. Fast-food restaurants also adopted the innovation.

Motorists can now get flu shots or pay their respects at a funeral parlor without leaving their vehicles.

"I lived in Atlantic City, and there's drive-through everything there," said Daphne Wiese, an assistant circulation supervisor at Harford County Public Library, which maintains a drive-through window at the Bel Air branch. "It's a really innovative idea, and for libraries, the time had come."

The drive-through lane resembles those at fast-food restaurants around Bel Air. Library patrons can return books, pay late fees and check out items that they request in advance.

Circulation clerks staffed the window for two hours each morning and evening when it opened in July 1998. In the first month, 670 people used the service. The figure has risen to 4,300 users a month and the window is open from 8 a.m. to 8: 30 p.m. every weekday.

"Oooh, they love it," circulation clerk Christine Matteson said of the patrons who use the drive-through lane. "They love not having to get out of their cars. They love not having to wake up sleepy children. They love not having to circle for a parking spot."

Matteson and other library staff said they were apprehensive about the drive-through lane.

But as the compliments poured in -- and the burger-and-fries jokes subsided -- they came to value the drive-through as another way of increasing the number of books in circulation.

"People who are going to browse the library are still going to browse, but if you know what you want and you need to pick it up real fast, that's available, too," said Audra Caplan, associate director of Harford County's library system. "It's not intended to replace the traditional library. It's intended to enhance."

Although the American Library Association cannot pinpoint when and where the first drive-through library lane opened, facilities exist in cities and towns from Warwick, R.I., and Gates, N.Y., to Glendale, Ariz., and Little Rock, Ark.

Faced with growing competition from upscale bookstores, libraries are trying to cater to a choosier clientele, offering naturally lighted reading areas, coffee shops, Internet access and literary-themed gift shops.

A 45,000-volume library branch in South Bend, Ind., that opened in December featured an interior waterfall, a fireplace, a cafe, a butterfly garden, a courtyard with ponds and a lighted dome of the constellations.

It also has a drive-through window.

"It's a very good concept," said Angelo Sanders, manager of Howard County's east Columbia branch, where library users have been able to return books and check out reserved volumes at a drive-through since the branch opened in August 1994.

"It's one of the ways in which libraries are trying to be more like bookstores, and even bookstores, to my knowledge, don't have drive-through windows. So that's one of the ways we're ahead of them," Sanders said.

The Eldersburg branch of the Carroll County Library opened in 1983 at Hemlock Drive West and St. Andrews Way, across from the Carrolltown Center mall. The one-story building also housed Health Department and state police offices.

When the Health Department moved out, the library expanded its children's collection, brightened the area and added a mural of characters from children's folk literature and fairy tales.

Library officials want to expand and update the general section, enlarge the parking lot and add a drive-through window. The county is choosing from three architectural design proposals, which must be approved by the county commissioners.

In Bel Air on a recent morning, circulation clerk Ismat Haque moved around the drive-through area, a tiny room crammed with a half-dozen rolling shelves and carts, a cash register, a circulation computer, two heating vents and a tall chair she was too busy to use.

From 9 a.m. to 11 a.m., she helped 42 motorists, checked in and organized returned materials, answered the phone -- and gave a driver directions to a housing development.

"I love it," said Nancy Hendricks of Bel Air after returning books. "If I want to browse, I set time aside to go in and browse. But if I have books due, I can drop them off and keep going."

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