With Howard County's central library closed for renovations, borrowing is up nearly 50 percent at the next nearest branch in Columbia - an increase much larger than expected.
"We guessed it would go up 25 percent, but I would say we've increased close to 45 percent," said Angelo Z. Sanders, manager of the east Columbia branch, which is 2 1/2 miles from the now-empty central building.
Howard's library system is in flux this year, with the central library closed since June 1 and a new western county branch scheduled to open in Glenwood on Aug. 28, after a 6 p.m. ribbon-cutting.
All 330,000 books, videos, magazines and music compact discs from the central library have been safely stored at the former AlliedSignal building off Route 108, and are accessible if needed.
Liz Lancaster, manager of the central library, which is on South Entrance Road near The Mall in Columbia, said the move went off almost as planned, taking nearly three weeks to complete. A few volumes slipped from their wrappings during transit, Lancaster said, and she forgot one little detail:
"There were 40,000 items out [on loan] at the time," Lancaster said, so the re-shelving is a bit backlogged. Row upon row of 10-foot-high bookshelves and scores of mobile trays filled with returns occupy three large rooms at the county-owned building. About 25 library workers process new material for all county libraries, take phone requests for about 35 items a day, and re-shelve returns. The library promises to respond to requests with a delivery to one of the operating branches within 24 hours.
"The collection is basically in order, just as it was there," Lancaster said.
The central library building is awaiting the award of the $5.1 million renovation contract. County public works officials said delays in coordinating specifications between the architect and engineers mean that renovation likely won't start until late next month. The central library is scheduled to reopen late next year.
Despite increased use of the east Columbia branch, where 18 of the central library's staff have been temporarily reassigned, the branch did not open Sundays this summer.
Norma Hill, the county library director, said the central staff was divided among the other five branches so all could open a half-hour earlier on weekdays, but funds and staff wouldn't stretch to Sundays. "We're one month away from opening on Sundays anyway ... By next summer, that may be something that goes into the budget," Hill said.
The Elkridge and Savage branches, which have never opened Sundays, will do so this fall, she said. The county's other two branch libraries are in Ellicott City and Lisbon.
The new, $3.8 million Glenwood branch - with its brown, green and brick-red exterior, and high tin roof - is designed to evoke the rural area's agrarian history, Hill said. Residents approved the design concept several years ago at a public meeting, she said, although several complaints about its appearance have been heard recently.
The 29,500-square-foot branch is being stocked with books, as workers fix small problems noted by contractors.
In east Columbia, Sanders said, his larger staff is serving patrons promptly, although lines often develop at the checkout counter, and racks of books ready for reshelving fill a room behind the front desk.
"We're handling the crowds well. The busiest days are the earlier part of the week. During the rest of the week, it's unpredictable. The quietest evening is Thursday, and, of course, Saturday is very busy," he said.
Cathy Gilbert of Wilde Lake, who visited the east Columbia branch with her three children last week, agreed, but was not without a few criticisms. "I don't like this library as much [as the central branch]. The [round] layout is confusing, but the atmosphere is friendlier," she said, looking around at the extensively decorated children's section. Crowding, she said, has not been a problem.
"There are no long [checkout] lines, even though in the middle of the day there are quite a few people," said Patrick Winter, who was seated by himself next to a window, working on his laptop computer.
Diane Savadkin of Owen Brown said she always comes to the east Columbia branch with her two children, 5 and 10. "I don't think it's crowded, not at all. I just realized today that the central branch was closed," she said.