Annapolis library fights to stay open

Study to help Arundel focus on needs of patrons

February 20, 2005|By Jamie Stiehm | Jamie Stiehm,SUN STAFF

Suggestions that the Annapolis Area library branch could close -- and a new regional branch could be built in Parole -- have some residents worried that they will no longer be able to walk to the familiar red-brick library that's been a fixture on West Street since 1965.

A coalition of residents opposed to closing the Annapolis library recently formed and enlisted Mayor Ellen O. Moyer in the cause.

The mayor introduced a resolution at a City Council meeting last week to keep the branch open, even though she acknowledges city government has no direct power over the county library system.

"The library has been an integral part of the life of the city for several hundred years," Moyer said, noting Colonial records that show a lending library started in Annapolis. "It's in such a strategic place, where kids can ride their bikes and people can walk."

Moyer and longtime library users said they believe strongly that a library branch should remain inside the limits of the state capital.

Fears that the branch could close surfaced after a study laid out various options for future library service in the city and county.

One scenario involved building a larger, enhanced library on or near the former Parole Plaza site, where a developer is forging ahead with a $400 million plan for stores, offices and condominiums.

In that case, the West Street branch, the oldest one in the system, could conceivably close, library officials said.

Matt Schatzle, president of the Germantown-Homewood civic association, said a survey of his neighborhood showed that almost all respondents supported keeping the library on the current site and that 75 percent supported enlarging the current building if it needed upgrading.

"This is our library near the Historic District, and I would say all of my fellow residents are concerned," Schatzle said. "It's a no-brainer, with an active, vibrant centerpiece of the community in a very nice location."

Laurie L. Hayes, spokeswoman for the county public library, stressed that no final decisions have been made regarding the branch's future.

"We're not even leaning in one direction," Hayes said. "We appreciate the input, and we need to gather more information, but we are far away from deciding."

Hayes said a $50,000 follow-up study, focusing on the needs and composition of Annapolis library users, will help county library officials determine where to build and how to design a library that fits future trends.

Gloria Davis, the branch manager, said that despite space constraints, the Annapolis library thrives from morning until night, with groups as varied as Babies in Bloom and Parents Without Partners meeting there regularly.

There is also a coin club, a postcard club, a stamp club and a free community meeting room.

Last week, Nina Carrieri, 33, who teaches English at Anne Arundel Community College, checked out several DVD movies at the branch. She said closing the library that she frequents weekly would be a shame.

"It's all about location," she said. "But I'd go a little further down the road if it was bigger and had better parking and traffic management."

Along with the regular collection of hardback books on the shelves, the Annapolis branch has evolved over the years to offer books on tape, paperbacks, videos and public access to 27 computers in a quiet space with wood desks and chairs. (The newest branch, which opened in Odenton last year, has 65 computers.)

"None of those things were here in 1965," Davis said. "We've never added to the public square footage since then, so we have no [space] for comfortable seating."

The oldest branch in the system is also one of the busiest, with a circulation count of 266,444 items checked out in the second half of last year. The number of visitors was 26,403 in December, Davis said

Schatzle said the downtown neighborhood coalition has set up a citizens library committee, made up of 15 members, who will seek to monitor the new study. One of the neighborhood activists, Ellan Thorson, also sits on the county library board, library officials said.

The county library board is not appointed by elected officials, but has an old form of governance, shared by the Enoch Pratt Free Library in Baltimore, in which board members choose who serves and fill vacancies.

Jan Hardesty, the city's public information officer, said Annapolitans should never surrender their library, even if one is built a mile down West Street.

In researching the library's lineage, Hardesty found it dates back 300 years, when an Englishman, the Rev. Thomas Bray, sent books to the colony parishes to help civilize them.

The original Bray collection is in the state archives, Hardesty said. For Schatzle, 40, the library matter is more immediate.

"If you have to drive to Parole to go to the library," he said, "that's one more sign the world's going to hell."

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