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.
"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.
There's no money in the budget to do anything now, but as Marks has said, funding delay at least provides an opportunity to agree on a plan that can be activated as soon as funding is available.
Each option comes with potential complications.
No amount of renovation can counter the fact the library is too small, Fiastro said. There are thousands of people living in the area, and the branch is the size of a postage stamp.
Any plan to expand the building could encounter opposition from those to treasure its modern architectural, Frank Lloyd Wright-style design, and its setting in the woods, he noted.
Co-authoring the future
The cleanup revealed how complicated change to the library may be, since the 2,500-square-foot library is a tenant in a county-owned building in which another tenant, the county Health Department, is occupying the remaining 9,500 square feet of space.
"(The cleanup) was an volunteer effort, but we had to get permission from the county library system and from the county and then separate approval for water usage," he said. "Cleanup day showed how difficult it could be having two entities involved."
A new structure would involve considerable expense, not just for the building but possibly for the purchase of land. Even relocating the library to the elementary school site — if it becomes a community center — may involve a financial and logistical bridge too far to cross in the foreseeable future.
In the meantime, they're looking at all the possibilities, and making do with what they have.
Fiastro said he sent the county Board of Education a letter about the flashy electronic sign on Charles Street for the Ridge Ruxton School and West Towson Elementary School — which the school board was forced to remove because it was so controversial on a scenic byway.
"I'm asking them to relocate it to Taylor Avenue at the entrance to the parking lot for the library to make the branch more visible from the street," he said. "The school superintendent's office has written back that several groups have requested the sign and that our request would be among those considered."
To contact the Friends, go to http://www.facebook.com/pages/Friends-of-Loch-Raven-Library/125634014183945