Sunday library hours fall victim to cuts

The Baltimore Sun

Anne Arundel County libraries will end Sunday hours for the remainder of the summer, joining cuts in branch hours and purchases of new materials as casualties of a shrunken budget.

Annapolis, West County and North County libraries will resume, Sept. 7, but Severna Park and Crofton libraries will no longer be open Sundays. Nine other branches do not have Sunday hours, while the Maryland City branch has separate funding that allows it to remain open Sundays. The first Sunday closing will be next weekend, ending a more-than-30-year tradition of Sunday hours.

The County Council cut about $1.18 million from the library system's budget for the fiscal year beginning Tuesday. The operations budget, usually about $16 million, has been reduced by $400,000.

"I was frankly very surprised that we were cut to the extent we were," said Joan Beck, president of the library board of trustees. "We want to keep all of them up and operating ... [but] you have to have so many dollars to operate so many branches."

Beck worried that the budget will be slashed further next year, forcing the closure of branches.

Last year, a total of 28,000 people visited the five affected libraries on Sundays from mid-June to the end of August, compared with about 27,000 who visited during a 10-week period from September to mid-November 2007. The library board of trustees decided this month to keep libraries available on Sundays during the school year.

"It will probably be hardest for people who work during the week," said Gloria Davis, branch manager for the Annapolis Area Library and southern area supervisor for the library system. Libraries are popular locations on Sundays, not only for those checking out materials, but for community members who want to use meeting rooms and computers, she said.

Among other hits, part-time employees will no longer receive full-timers' benefits, starting in January. Their benefit plans will change to reflect how much time they work.

In addition, nearly 20 percent of the materials budget has been cut from the usual $4 million budget.

For library users, this means fewer popular novels, DVDs and CDs, educational materials for students and subscriptions to online journals for computer users. Library administrator Marion Francis warned that people will have to reserve materials and wait more often than they did in the past.

"When you cut materials, you cut the ability to serve certain groups," Beck said. "Educational materials ... have to be updated each year, and we can't do that."

Having fewer hours and fewer resources will impact computer users, a significant portion of library patrons, Davis said. The Annapolis branch has 25 public computers.

Last Sunday, 83 people used the computers in the four-hour period that the library was open, she said. Computer records last year show even stronger usage later in the summer. On July 15, 2007, 111 people used the computers in four hours.

"I rely strictly on library computers," said Don Phillips of Dundalk, who uses them every day. "I'm retired, but I stay connected."

Though he doesn't live in Anne Arundel County, he sometimes comes into the county because there are more libraries open on Sundays than in Baltimore County.

Baltimore County has two branches open on Sundays for the entire year and Prince George's County has seven. Montgomery County and Baltimore City have eight libraries and one library open on Sundays, respectively. Neither offers Sunday hours during the summer.

With the decision made June 19, few users seemed to know about the changes.

"I hadn't heard about it," said David Will, who lives in Shady Side. "That does disappoint me a little, because Saturday and Sunday are when I'm free to come."

He said he could adjust because it was just one day a week, but he liked having the Sunday hours at the Annapolis branch because the library closest to him, in Deale, was not open on Sundays.

Betty Robison, who likes taking her children to the library, relies on the extended hours of the Annapolis branch because the hours at the Broadneck library don't fit her schedule.

"I would think a library is important enough that it should be open every hour that's possible," she said.

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