Budget cuts likely to shelve DNR research-based library

Librarian will be laid off, facility will close in June unless funding is found

February 07, 2005|By Rona Kobell | Rona Kobell,SUN STAFF

The Maryland Department of Natural Resources is likely losing both its library and its beloved librarian.

Cecelia Petro, who opened the library in 1998 after some scientists decided that a research-based institution needed one, is among eight people agencywide who are being laid off under the governor's budget.

Unless the DNR can find outside funding, the Carter Library and Information Resource Center probably will close in June. Petro, who is 56 and has worked at the agency for two decades, said her primary worry is not finding a job but finding a home for the library's collection of well-worn journals and state-published materials.

"I tell this to anyone who will listen: The public paid for these," Petro said as she gestured toward a shelf full of periodicals.

People "deserve access," she said. "And the only way they will get it is if these publications are catalogued and accessible. I'm sure there are quite a few titles where this is the only library where they exist."

News of Petro's pink slip traveled quickly throughout the community of biologists and resource managers who have increasingly relied on the library in the DNR's Annapolis complex as their education and training budgets dwindled and travel to out-of-state conferences became rare.

Some in the agency have lobbied their supervisors to save the library. And former DNR employees have reached out in hopes of convincing their one-time bosses that the library is worth saving.

W.R. "Nick" Carter III, the longtime DNR fisheries biologist for whom the library is named, called the closure "the biggest mistake they could make."

"They're going to handicap themselves," said Carter, who donated many of his publications to the library's collection before he retired in 2000. "It will take the availability and the meaning of availability back 10 years, maybe even more."

DNR Assistant Secretary Michael E. Slattery has long been an advocate of the library but said he had to face the fact that other programs are more important.

"When we are faced with the budget situation we're faced with now, we simply can't afford to fund all of our priorities," Slattery said. The cut will save the agency about $95,000 a year, officials said, about $55,000 of which is Petro's salary.

Former DNR Secretary Torrey C. Brown called the decision shortsighted.

"The amount of dollars you're going to save from the budget with that kind of tiny cut is not going to be worth it," he said.

DNR scientists began clamoring for a library in the late 1980s, when the agency's tiny, old one closed and its collection was shipped to the state archives. In 1995, then-Secretary John R. Griffin Jr. formed the Ecosystem Council, a group of agency scientists with the job of looking at resource management in a more holistic way. Instead of looking at one species of fish, a biologist would examine how a species interacted with other plants and animals.

To accomplish that, the council quickly agreed, the agency needed a library.

But a hiring freeze prevented the DNR from hiring an outside librarian. Petro, who was a data manager for Program Open Space, stepped forward. Besides having the required computer skills, the Galesville resident had run a rare- and used-book business.

On a shoestring budget, she turned what had been several offices into one large room. She bought striped couches at a garage sale, and a colleague donated recliners. The state law library contributed the front desk, and other agencies came through with more furniture.

Petro then added personal touches. On the wall behind her desk is a quilt she made depicting colorful open library books. On another wall is her handmade patchwork of DNR division seals, which some former employees cross-stitched years ago. And in one corner is a black boot sitting atop an old-fashioned shoe buffer with this sign: "free shoe shines."

The library has always been open to the public, and a quarter of its users come from outside the agency. But it quickly became the place for biologists to catch up on the latest issue of the Canadian Journal of Fish and Aquatic Sciences or peruse the Maryland Dam Safety Manual. Many scientists take advantage of Petro's lending program, through which libraries from as far away as Michigan lend periodicals to the DNR.

Slattery served on the Ecosystem Council and frequently used the library in his former position as a wildlife manager. But he was part of the senior management team that recommended cutting the library. In all, the department cut 40 positions - most of them unfilled. Besides Petro, those who were laid off include a computer specialist and several forest service employees.

Between now and the end of June, Slattery said, he'll try to find a way to preserve the library's collection that doesn't rely on state funding.

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