Beset by possible budget cuts and in need of finding new ways to raise money, Baltimore County library Director Charles W. Robinson is floating the idea of charging non-county residents $10 for a library card.
Currently, 100,000 residents of Baltimore City, who account for 14 percent of the county's total circulation, hold free county library cards, as do 26,000 other non-county residents.
The county system has about 550,000 card-holders.
Mr. Robinson figures his plan could bring in at least $100,000. He believes families with members having individual county cards would cut back to one card if the $10 fee were imposed.
Nearly 50 years ago, the Enoch Pratt Free Library charged county residents a small fee for a borrower's card. Public indignation over that helped propel the county to establish its own library system in 1948, Mr. Robinson said.
Averil Kadis, spokeswoman for the Pratt, said that the 1940s fee was $3 for adults and $1.50 for children of non-city residents. People who worked in the city and paid city taxes were exempt, even if they lived outside the city's boundaries.
The Pratt dropped the charges after the county got its own system.
The idea of charging out-of-county residents, she said, "is really a regressive move. We've all had budget cuts." She noted that all Maryland libraries now have reciprocal borrowing agreements that allow residents to use libraries in neighboring jurisdictions.
Harford County's library director, Philip A. Place, agreed with Ms. Kadis. "We think it's a pretty poor idea," he said.
He said the Maryland Association of Public Library Administrators is urging that the county and city library trustees discuss the idea before any action is taken.
Last year, the Carroll County library imposed a fee on out-of-state residents, mostly users from Hanover, Pa.
Mr. Robinson says his idea is in its most preliminary stage, but he expects County Executive Roger B. Hayden to cut $1 million from the library budget next month.
"The challenge is that we're never going to get [the money] back," Mr. Robinson said. "Future budget increases will only cover inflation."
Last year's budget-cutting measures -- including worker furloughs and one-time reductions in buying books -- won't work now, he said. New ways of raising money must be found, and there's no more logical way than by charging those who use the county system but don't support it through taxes, he said.
The county system has become more popular with city residents in recent years. City residents account for 30 percent of the circulation at the Pikesville branch, 27 percent at the Loch Raven branch and 36 percent at a storefront branch in the Greenspring Shopping Center.
Mr. Robinson said he has not broached the fee idea with his board of trustees or with Mr. Hayden.
"The real solution is a city-county library," he said, adding that no one is seriously suggesting merging the two systems.