Harford County's public library is suffering from outdated books, too few hours of operation and a bare-bones staff. The ailing system needs an infusion of funds, its advocates told the County Council last week -- about $3 million more than it's been getting annually from the county.
The Board of Library Trustees described the library's poor condition to council members in a pre-budget workshop.
While the council does not have authority to increase the library's budget, it does have to approve the county budget and can lobby the administration in support of budget requests.
"I think the people of Harford County deserve better than what we've been giving them," said Mary Patricia Massarelli, chairman of the board of trustees.
Last year the county approved a $4.2 million operating budget for the library for fiscal 1994, which began July 1. That was $518,000 more than the previous year, but far less than the $6 million the library had requested.
The library system, which supports nine branches, is also funded by about $650,000 from the state and about $250,000 in fines and fees.
Most of the budget increase from the county was used to cover county-mandated salary increases, according to the library's assistant director, Irene Padilla. The rest, she said, went to contracted services, including utility costs. Little was added to the book budget, she said. The library's collection of books and materials is about 687,000 items.
Trustees also said that the library has been forced to reduce its hours of operation 14 percent since August 1992 because it doesn't have enough employees to staff the branches.
At the smaller branches evening hours have been reduced or eliminated, and the Havre de Grace and Edgewood libraries are open only four hours on weekends.
Library trustees blame the reduced hours and inadequate materials for the 6 percent drop in circulation in the past year, the first such decrease in more than five years.
"I'm afraid we're at a point where we're starting to lose people, and that isn't good," the library's director, Philip Place, told council members.
Woodrow Grant, a trustee and former science teacher, noted that the libraries' science books are "five to 10 years behind" the times and that history and geography texts aren't even close to keeping pace with the political and economic changes in the world, particularly in Africa, Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union.
"Our kids are doing research with books that are sorely outdated," he said, noting that most students are dependent on the county library for researching school projects.
Mr. Place said the materials budget of $800,000 is only half the size it should be to bring the collection up to date.
"If we could double our materials budget to $1.6 million a year for the next couple years, you would see an amazing improvement in the amount of information available."
He said the library would like to see a $3 million increase in the operating budget next year -- to $7.2 million. That would not only provide a healthy injection of new materials but would allow hours to be restored, more staff to be hired and needed equipment to be purchased.
Ms. Padilla noted that while the library requested $55,000 for equipment last year, it was able to devote only $5,000 of the budget to that effort.
Branches are chronically complaining of lack of shelving, book carts, study tables, chairs and "even step stools and trash cans," she told the council.
When Baltimore County recently closed some of its branches because of its own budget cutbacks, Harford was on its doorstep waiting to get its used equipment at bargain prices, she said. "And we're constantly looking for discards from county departments."
Council President Jeffrey D. Wilson advised the trustees not to be shy in asking the administration for money for legitimate needs.
"You don't make any progress by not representing your needs," he said.
"Make sure you have very clear priorities and that those items are solidly justified," he advised them.
"I'm prepared to go to bat for the library, but we need to be able to say to our constituents that we're already managing the library to the best of our abilities."