THE CHARLES E. MILLER LIBRARY, A FIXTURE IN ELLICOTT CITY FOR ALMOST A HALF-CENTURY, IS LIKELY TO BE REPLACED IN THE NEXT THREE YEARS.
The idea is not new, but the absence of land and financing has shelved the plan. Both obstacles, though, are on the threshold of being overcome.
First, County Executive James N. Robey has reached a tentative agreement with the family of Paul Miller for 10 acres adjacent to the existing library, and the county's capital budget for the coming fiscal year includes $1 million to acquire the land.
Although the deal with Miller, the son of Charles E. Miller, has not been formalized, a spokesman for Robey said, "It is our anticipation that it will be. There is every indication of that happening."
More important, perhaps, the project is the first in an ambitious, multimillion-dollar expansion program that, if completed as envisioned, would transform the county's library system over the next six years.
"We're part of the education process for all ages," said Valerie J. Gross, director of the six-library system. "We're also running the library like a business. We're always asking the question, `How can we run the library more efficiently?' Is this what our customers need? Is this what they want?' We need library buildings to do that."
"The only library that is big enough to serve its population is Glenwood," Gross said, "All the others need additional space."
The expansion plan is subject to change, especially because of costs, but in addition to the Miller project, it currently includes:
Replacing the Elkridge library in three years with a three-story, 35,000-square-foot branch. Discussions are being held on building the structure about a mile from the existing Elkridge branch, as part of a mixed-used development planned for the area.
Replacing the Savage branch in late 2011 with a two-story, 35,000-square-foot facility, probably as part of the North Laurel community park.
The projects would more than double the space of both libraries, and are components of the county's broader efforts to revitalize the U.S. 1 corridor.
Renovate the existing Miller branch into administrative offices in four years.
Renovate the east Columbia branch a year later.
Open a new, 25,000-square-foot library in 2012 at an undetermined site. There are discussions to put that branch at Turf Valley, the resort and planned community in western Ellicott City, although it is premature to speculate on whether a deal with the owner and developer of Turf Valley, Mangione Family Enterprises, will be forthcoming.
In addition, the county is considering expanding or relocating the central library as part of the plan to develop Town Center in Columbia into an "urban downtown."
Substantial growth in the use of the library system is the primary impetus for the expansion plan.
Visits to the libraries reached 2.1 million last year, more than double the number in 2001. The number of books and other items checked out has increased 58 percent in the same period, to 5 million. And tens of thousands of people are using the system through the Internet.
Gross said that, for example, a one-day "snapshot" showed that 200,000 people were using the library's Web site at noon.
"They were online, either remote or in the library, doing research, ordering books, getting a library card or asking staff a question," she said. "The Internet has actually increased our need for building space, as well as the number of items borrowed, contrary to what otherwise is a common perception."
But before the full expansion plan can be implemented, the new library in Ellicott City must be built. It would have 82,500 square feet - almost four times larger than the Miller branch.
The new library is expected to include a joint program with the county's historical society, although an agreement has not been finalized.
"It's beyond just being discussed," Gross said. "We have a letter of intent from the historical society. We are committed to working with them. ... It's an opportunity to capitalize on their expertise. ... Everyone in the county will have easy access to a new component of a collection that right now ... is not easily accessible."
In addition to land acquisition, the cost of the library is estimated at $4.6 million for the design and engineering phase and $26.6 million for construction.
What remains uncertain is the name. There would have been no question of the Miller name continuing had the 10 acres been donated. But naming rights vanish when the public pays for the land.
"We don't know what the name will be," Gross said. "We've been referring to it as the new Ellicott City Library and Historical Center, but the name is up to the library board."