Prince George’s County executive proposes more Sunday hours for libraries

Prince George's County Executive Rushern Baker III (Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post) Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker III (Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post)

When Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III unveiled his $3.41 billion spending plan for the next fiscal year, expanding the number of library branches open on Sunday, he explained the request came at the behest of his daughter.

“My daughter said she wanted Sunday hours expanded,” Baker said jokingly during a news conference Thursday at the county’s headquarters in Upper Marlboro.

His daughter, Aja Baker, 22, a senior in college, was commuting back and forth between St. Mary’s and her family’s home in Cheverly, where she helps to take care of her mother, Christa Baker, who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease three years ago.

While in Cheverly, Aja needed a place to study on Sundays, an official said, that’s why she lobbied her dad for more Sunday hours for libraries.

Baker’s proposed spending plan, which includes $1.8 billion for the county’s school board — an increase of $107 million over the 2014 budget — also includes $104 million for Prince George’s Community College and $27 million for the Prince George’s County Memorial Library System.

Currently, three of the county’s 19 libraries are open on Sunday. They are Hyattsville, South Bowie and Oxon Hill.

By September, the number of county library branches open on Sunday is tentatively scheduled to increase to 7.  Fairmount Heights, Hillcrest Heights, Spauldings and New Carrollton libraries will open their doors on Sunday from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.

“It is fantastic that we are able to reach more people with more hours,” said Michelle Hamiel, associate director for public services for the Prince George’s County Memorial Library System. “The more we are open, that means we are engaging more with the community. The more we provide that access, the more we are able to enrich lives.” The number of people who own a Prince George’s library card is 462,055.

Sunday hours are important, Hamiel said, because that is the day of week when people often have more leisure time. “Everything else is open on Sunday,” Hamiel said. “The library is a wonderful destination as a community center. Students have research to do on Sunday. Homework doesn’t stop.”

Hamiel cited a recent Pew Research Center study that found that library users are often more engaged in their communities and are more likely to use technology. “Library users tend to be smarter,” Hamiel said. “Children tend to be better readers, and communities with libraries strive better.”

The study also found that people generally have a favorable impression of librarians. “People see librarians almost as social workers. We are connecting them to information they don’t know they have access to or don’t know how to get access to,” Hamiel said. “So, yes, people love librarians.”

The Pew report entitled “From Distant Admirers to Library Lovers–and beyond: A typology of public library engagement in America,” was released Thursday.

Kathryn Zickuhr, research associate at the Pew Research Centers Internet Project, said the study found that library use strongly correlates with higher household income and education levels.

“Among people who graduated high school, 39 percent had visited a library in the past year,” Zickuhr said. “Among people who graduated college, almost six in 10 have visited a public library.”

A 2012 Pew Research Center study entitled “How Americans Value Public Libraries in Their Communities” found that a majority of Americans value public libraries.

A Pew report released in January 2013 and entitled “Library Services in the Digital Age” discovered  that “African-Americans and Hispanics are more likely than whites to say that the local library is important to them and their families.”

The study found that: “48% of African-Americans say the library is very important to them, along with 43% of Hispanics, compared with 35% of whites.”

“When it comes to specific library services,” the study found, “African-Americans are more likely than whites 1) to use the local library to get access to historical documents or genealogical records; 2) to use the library to get access to databases such as legal or public records; and 3) to use the library to access or borrow newspapers or magazines or journals.”

DeNeen L. Brown is an award-winning staff writer at The Washington Post who has covered night police, education, courts, politics and culture.

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