Balto. Co. libraries expand hours, services at all 19 branches

Baltimore County officials on Thursday announced an expansion of library services that include full-time hours at the Loch Raven Library and year-round Sunday hours at each of the county's 19 library branches.

The changes are part of a service increase across all of the county's satellite branches, including those in Hereford, Lansdowne and Sollers Point, and ensures that beginning Sept. 8, all 19 Baltimore County Public Library branches will be open on Sunday afternoons from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m., officials said.

"We have a great staff, we have great collections, but if you're not open, what good is it?" Jim Fish, director of the Baltimore County Public Library system said during the Thursday press conference at the Loch Raven branch, with about two dozen people in attendance.

Loch Raven Library, which was closed for a period in the 1990s, was previously the only branch without evening hours four nights a week. Prior, hours were 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday and Wednesday, and 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday.

Beginning Sept. 8, the Loch Raven Library will be open until 9 p.m. Monday to Thursday, with Friday and Saturday hours remaining the same and Sunday hours from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.

Fish and County Executive Kevin Kamenetz both lauded the advocacy from the Loch Raven community for their role in gaining full-service status.

While other Baltimore County Library Friends groups focus on a wide array of programming and gifts for the libraries they support, the Friends of the Loch Raven Library has spent the last three years simply trying to raise awareness that their library exists.

The building is set back in a wooded area off Taylor Avenue, and a streetside sign illuminated its limited hours.

Michael Middleton, president of the Friends of Loch Raven Library, said before the press conference that the group promoted awareness of the library with a monthly speaker's series, and slowly, data showed more and more people were attending the library. That led to a push from the Friends group for full-service hours.

"The library system was very receptive to that," Middleton said. "They understood our concerns and said it was on their list, but thankfully, they were able to find the funding and make this happen."

One immediate benefit for the community, Middleton said, was the increased availability of the library's meeting room.

"We've had issues with having a really nice meeting room that you could only register for Monday and Wednesday after working hours because Tuesday and Thursday nights they were closed," Middleton said. "Being able to provide the normal resources they have to folks later on in the evening, that's the biggest right there."

Fish said the additional staff at the four satellite branches is coming from the existing staff pool, and changes were possible after an extensive study of the usage and staffing of the library system.

"I just want to let you know how thankful we are … that you were able to work this out within your existing budget, using your staff to help reallocate resources," Kamenetz said. "This is what we're talking about when we talk about being innovative, responsible, and efficient: How do we adapt to our existing economic climate and still provide more services?"

Councilwoman Cathy Bevins and David Marks, whose districts border the library, were in attendance. Marks lauded Fish and Kamenetz' efforts to expand the Loch Raven Library's service while other libraries around the country are cutting back.

Marks wrote a letter to the library system in January in which he urged them to expand services, though Fish said at the time that it was "a little too soon" to accommodate the request.

"The Loch Raven and Hillendale communities deserve the same access to a full-service library as every other populated community in Baltimore County," Marks said. "That was denied for 20 years, and today, it's back."

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