Arundel library at a crossroads


Any Anne Arundel County resident who has ever satisfied a yen for a good book with a trip to a county library owes Edward Hall a big debt of gratitude.

Mr. Hall, the county library administrator for the past 22 years, plans to retire Oct. 4. During his long tenure, he has worked diligently, quietly and without controversy to build a system of 14 branches that now circulates 5.1 million books, magazines, videos, pamphlets and records each year. And he did it despite a succession of county councils that have always treated the library budget as an easy mark for cuts.

The library system in neighboring Baltimore County ranks as one of the best in the nation, thanks, in part, to historically generous funding that allowed massive book purchases. Mr. Hall has always been pretty good at the political end of his job, but he was never quite able to convince elected officials to give him the money to put Anne Arundel's libraries on the cutting edge.

This year, for instance, he asked for money to study new, sophisticated technology that, among other wonders, would let patrons dial into the system from home to see if a book is on the shelf. The Neall administration allocated the money; the council cut it. It also killed the Mountain Road library, a greatly needed project Mr. Hall had hoped to see completed during his tenure.

Whatever disappointments the council handed him, Mr. Hall kept his criticisms to himself. He never made a fuss when he didn't get what he wanted, but did the best he could with what he was given. He behaved like a gentleman, not just to his superiors but to employees, too. Library workers say they think of him as a friend. That says a great deal about his effectiveness.

As the library's board of directors searches for his successor, they must remember that the next few years promise to be challenging for the library system. Chances are that libraries will have to fight harder for money as the property tax cap approved by voters last fall begins to affect county revenues. Meanwhile, growing communities will continue to demand their own branches, the existing automated system will grow more obsolete, and residents will always clamor for more books, more hours, more services.

Mr. Hall has given Anne Arundel County an excellent library system. Now it needs someone who loves libraries as much as he, who can protect what he built and take it into the next century.

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