Looking back, it was tough work when the Friends of the Loch Raven Library and other volunteers gathered last month to clean up the exterior of the library on Taylor Avenue and spruce up the grounds.

The Friends group was formed in January to raise community awareness about the branch, enlist support for it and look at ways to expand library service in the area.

From 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on June 4, they cleaned windows, swept concrete, power washed surfaces, pulled weeds and fished junk out of the stream and filled enough trash bags to overflow a Dumpster.

State Del. Bill Frank, who did his share of work, said it was time well spent.

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"A good cleanup had been on the back burner for so long, there was a lot that needed to be done," he said. " It was a good opportunity to help the community, roll up your sleeves and get moving. I enjoyed it."

Even Jim Fish, director of the 17-branch Baltimore County Public Library, was out there, giving up a chunk of his Saturday, sweeping up trash. "I wasn't qualified to do windows," he quipped.

He came because he wanted to make a statement.

"I think you have a Friends group that really cares, and they're putting themselves out there. What better way to say that they and the branch are important to the library system than putting in some of your own time and energy," Fish said.

BCPL's Edward "E.J." Woznicki, who manages the Parkville branch and oversees the Loch Raven branch, said he didn't know what to expect when he showed up for the clean-up.

"I was very pleased," he said. "There was a special bond that we developed as we got together one on one. Instead of sitting at a formal meeting, we let our hair down and all had fun."

Friends president Jon Fiastro was grateful that Fish, County Executive Kevin Kamenetz and Councilman David Marks have been supportive of keeping the library open, despite hard economic times.

The community hadn't been so lucky in 1993, when the branch had been closed as a cost-cutting measure during a bad economic spate. It remained closed for five years.

The cleanup was the easy part, he said. The hard part will be determining a future for the Loch Raven branch, building consensus about what it should be — and finding funding to pay for it.

The next chapter

Customers visited the Loch Raven branch 88,030 times during fiscal year 2011, and circulation increased 7.9 percent from the previous year to 78,541, according to BCPL records.

"Our first priority, and our least expensive goal, is increasing the hours the library is open," Fiastro said.

Like most branches, Loch Raven is closed Sundays, open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Mondays and Wednesdays, and open from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. But the branch closes at 5:30 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays, while other branches remain open until 9.

"It would take only seven or so hours to make it a full-time branch," Fiastro said.

"Our mission is advocacy," Fiastro said. "We're not policy makers, but we can attempt to influence policy makers. We can lead the charge."

At some point, he said, the Friends are going to have to sit down at the table to determine what the charge is: renovation, expansion, a brand new structure, or converting the old elementary school on Glen Keith Drive into a community center campus that would include the library.