Weekend readers jam Towson library Only 3 branches open Sunday


They were lined up 10 deep in Towson yesterday, but not to buy tickets to an Orioles game or a rock concert.

Patrons were patiently waiting to check out armloads of books at Baltimore County's Towson branch library, which has seen a 250 percent increase in Sunday circulation as a result of cuts in service elsewhere.

"There always were a lot of students, but it's more crowded now," said Peggy Davis, standing amid a swirl of bibliophiles after helping her 8-year-old grandson pick out two books and two videos.

In September, the county's Board of Library Trustees reduced the number of branches with Sunday hours from 15 to three -- leaving only Towson, North Point and Randallstown open to slake residents' thirst for knowledge.

Patrons check 5,000 books out of the Towson branch -- the county's largest -- every Sunday, said Charles W. Robinson, director of the county library system. Sunday circulation is up 200 percent at Randallstown to 4,000 books, and 150 percent at North Point to 2,000 books, he added.

An hour after Towson's market place for ideas opened for business yesterday, an employee was able to fill a sack with quarters from the photocopying machine near the entrance.

Readers had filled almost all the tables in the main reading area. Each aisle in the stacks seemed to hold two or three strolling, squinting or squatting patrons.

"We do more business per hour on Sunday than we do per hour during the rest of the week," said Cornelia Ives, the Towson branch manager.

Ms. Ives, who supervises a Sunday crew of eight librarians and 15 clerks, said it took a few months for patrons to get used to traveling to Towson from outlying areas.

"We did get a lot of people dazedly walking [in] and standing under the clock, not knowing where to go or what to expect," she said.

Baltimore City residents also have started showing up in Towson in greater numbers, library employees said.

Joseph Curry, a 41-year-old graduate student from West Baltimore, went to Towson for the first time yesterday after searching in vain for an open library closer to home.

Mr. Curry, a University of Maryland student who didn't have time to drive to College Park yesterday, stopped at the county's Woodlawn Branch, which used to be open Sundays, and found it closed.

He drove past the Pratt's Pennsylvania Avenue Branch on North Avenue. Closed.

"I did go around some," he said.

After a little research, he found that the Pratt's Central Branch now is the only city library open Sunday -- and only between 1 and 5 p.m.

Towson opens an hour earlier and stays open an hour longer, so that's where he went.

To cut expenses, the county library system has not only reduced Sunday service. It has reduced its staff from about 480 to 440, cut book purchases and ordered employees to take 10 unpaid "furlough" days -- seven work days and three holidays.

But patrons, Mr. Robinson said, appear to be shifting their borrowing and browsing habits around the cutbacks. Circulation for January, he said, was up 2 percent over the same month last year.

Plans now call for the Towson, Catonsville and Rosedale branches to open Sundays through most of the fall, winter and spring of next year, Mr. Robinson said.

But, he cautioned, the county's fiscal situation may not permit continued Sunday service anywhere.

He predicted that the county library system's $20.5 million budget will be reduced by at least 2 percent and may be cut by 10 percent.

"It's not bad every once in a while to be lean and mean," Mr. Robinson said. "The problem is that in order to get lean, you have to be mean. And that doesn't make everybody happy -- whether it's the public that is losing the service or it's the staff that has a higher stress level.

"I don't apologize to either the staff or the public," he added. "It's nobody's fault except the economy. I'm not singing the blues at all. We're just adapting to the current situation."

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