Starve a library? Current proposal would mar much-admired, much-used system.


IF CURRENT budget plans are adopted, Carroll County's vaunted public library system will be decimated. Hours will have to be drastically trimmed, magazine and periodical subscriptions canceled, damaged books won't be replaced; in short, a valuable community resource will be severely degraded. The county's budget problems may be tough but destroying a library system that enjoys the highest per-capita use rate in the state seems a nonsensical way of solving them.

Carroll's library system is the quintessential example of government providing service. Walk into any branch, and you will find a busy institution. People of all ages, incomes and education levels are there reading books, using computers, listening to tapes or studying reference materials. Just about anyone who visits a library in Carroll seems to come away satisfied by the experience.

The system is so well used that each year it loans out the equivalent of its 437,000-volume collection six times over. Nearly 80 percent of the county's population -- about 101,000 people -- have active library cards. Last year, 2.8 million items -- books, periodicals, cassettes, videos, compact discs and other materials -- were borrowed. Carroll's libraries have the highest circulation rates in Maryland. The system also operates at the lowest cost in the state.

At present, budget proposals call for a cut of $634,000, or 14 percent, for a proposed spending level of $4.3 million. Such a drastic cut would result in laying off library staff and a reduction in hours, or perhaps even fewer days each week. As it is, the library manages on a shoestring budget with mostly part-time employees.

Information has always been a valuable commodity, and never more so than in today's computer age. The deliberate starvation of this public repository of data, knowledge and information makes very little sense. Libraries and their vast collections need to be more accessible, yet this misguided proposal would restrict their use in Carroll.

Moreover, cutting back library service sends the wrong message to businesses and people who may be thinking about relocating. A community that is shutting down libraries makes itself a less PTC attractive place to live. There certainly must be better alternatives that to destroy this valuable civic institution.

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