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Avid readers lose Sunday fix as hours are cut at libraries


With "The Second Commandment" by Lawrence Sanders as her quest, Eugenia High strode resolutely into the Catonsville branch of the Baltimore County Public Library yesterday.

She was there on a Saturday, knowing that today the Catonsville library would be closed, along with 12 of the other 15 Baltimore County library branches.

Only the central library in Towson will be open today, from noon to 5 p.m. Beginning Oct. 13, two more branches, in Randallstown and North Point, will be open on Sundays.

Life doesn't get easier for the avid reader, Ms. High said.

She was already a refugee from the Enoch Pratt Free Public Library in Baltimore, which has also closed branches and shortened hours. Catonsville had seemed a likely refuge, she said, because it is fairly close to her home in the 1000 block of Stamford Road in the community of West Hills.

A fan of science fiction and of mysteries such as "The Second Commandment," Ms. High said she can probably adjust to the new hours. The book she wanted yesterday was not available, but she found another by Mr. Sanders, "The Pleasures of Helen."

Ms. High was happy, but she said, "If I were a student, this would be really bad."

If she were Mark Stone, she would have to adjust.

"If I have something important to do on Saturday, I come here on Sundays," he said.

No more.

The 15-year-old student at Catonsville High School arrived at the library yesterday afternoon in search of information on Rasputin. Wearing a blue and gold lacrosse jacket and carrying an armload of books, Mark trudged gamely into the bright and bustling library to learn more about the guileful Russian priest who was a close adviser to Czar Nicholas II and his wife until his death in 1916.

Mark was stoic, but the lack of flexibility for students has not pleased the Catonsville PTA, which met recently with Charles W. Robinson, the county library director, to express its unhappiness.

Nevertheless, the beige notice announcing the end of Sunday hours remains posted at the entrance of the building.

"The staff of the Baltimore County Public Library want to give more service, not less," the bulletin signed by Mr. Robinson said. "They are proud of their record as the busiest public library in the country."

The new hours were established last spring by the Board of Library Trustees, which concluded that fewer hours was a better option than fewer books. The system also has 36 fewer staff members this year.

"The board decided that with higher costs and the same income, something had to go. They know that a book not purchased now will probably never be added, so they chose to make economies in staff and in hours open," the bulletin said.

Hoping a bit of historical perspective would help, the library observed that before 1975, no branch was open on Sunday. "As money became available in the '80s, Sunday service was added until it was available in all 15 branches."

If the economy improves, the bulletin said, the branches will be reopened on Sundays next fall.

"I suppose we'll adjust," said Kristin Armshaw, 15, a sophomore at Mount de Sales High School in Catonsville. She and her friend, Rebecca Hancock, were studying in the library yesterday for a history examination.

"It's quieter here," Rebecca said.

If a reader (particularly a very youthful reader) went into reading withdrawal, he or she might dial 887-6116 for "Story Line," a still-available offering of the county public library.

Yesterday's story was called "Tomorrow." It stars Frog and Toad and is by Arnold Lobel.

"Toad woke up. 'Drat,' he said, 'this house is a mess. . . .' "

But, the story shows, Toad was a bit like Scarlett in "Gone With The Wind."

Tomorrow, I will do it all tomorrow, he says repeatedly.

In the end, though, he realizes that if he cleans today, he will be free tomorrow. So, he cleans.

"Now I feel better. I am not in the dumps anymore. . . . Now I can save tomorrow for something I really want to do." When the story ends, the voice says, "To discover other great stories, visit your library."

, Tomorrow, though, not today.

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