Dip in book circulation could prove portentous Library to present budget tonight


Stockpiling new books while they await the Carroll library system's transition to new automation, librarians have seen shades of tomorrow -- today.

In February, when new materials were left in storage at library headquarters in Westminster, overall circulation among the county's five libraries increased a bare 1.5 percent over February 1992.

"It's the smallest growth I've seen in a long time," said Martha Makosky, the county's library director. "Our circulation increases aren't typical. We're a growing county. We generally see circulation growth of 6 to 12 percent each month."

Ms. Makosky, who plans to retire this fall, said the flat circulation illustrates what is likely to happen if funding for books and materials doesn't improve in the future: User demand will drop.

"We have a wonderful library system but it's rapidly going downhill," Ms. Makosky said. "As soon as we can, we need to make repairs."

Those repairs aren't likely to come in fiscal 1994. The county commissioners have asked department heads to maintain current levels of spending next year.

But library officials, faced with the state's withdrawal of Social Security payments for librarians, are seeking $320,000 more in 1994. Some money also is needed for the new Mount Airy branch.

Ms. Makosky was to present a proposed $4.4 million library budget for fiscal 1994 to the county commissioners today. The spending plan calls for $600,033 for new materials, up 6 percent from $566,492 in 1993. The increase covers materials needed for the new Mount Airy branch.

"If the commissioners should infuse any new money, it should be for new materials," said Commissioner Elmer C. Lippy. "I think it should go in that direction rather than for any increases in salaries. I'm a great admirer of Martha and what she has done for the library system over there, but I have concerns about [administrative] salaries."

However, the fiscal 1994 plan doesn't call for any pay raises. Like other county employees, library workers have not received a raise in three years. Library employees, though, will likely receive a $500 annual raise proposed for county employees, Mr. Lippy said.

The library system has four administrators, including Ms. Makosky, whose annual salary is $73,750. The other salaries range from $37,676 to $55,858.

"I acknowledge that county and state officials can't afford to do more than keep us healthy right now," Ms. Makosky said. "But we have to urge them to understand that, just as the state, county and national infrastructure has gone to pot, the infrastructure of libraries need to be repaired. Basic to that is the materials budget."

The fiscal 1994 budget request for books represents only a 33 percent increase in purchasing power over money spent a decade ago, Ms. Makosky said. Since then, circulation -- the number of items checked out of the county's libraries -- has tripled, Ms. Makosky said.

Carroll has the highest per capita circulation in the state, she said.

Without additional money for materials, library patrons will find fewer new books and materials on the shelves, will have to wait longer to reserve books, some magazine subscriptions will not be renewed and reference materials will be older, she said.

"People will read about new books and come in to the library to find them, and we won't have them," Ms. Makosky said. "Or they may have to wait a little longer to reserve a copy."

Mr. Lippy said the library's ability to provide new materials in the future raises a "red flag" with him, too. However, he said there is little the financially strapped county can do next year.

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