Library Parking Issue Is Back on the Table
Thursday, June 5, 2008
The prospect of charging library patrons for parking has mobilized residents and politicians in advance of a likely County Council vote next week and has both sides invoking the Constitution and Founding Father Benjamin Franklin.
Those who would continue the county's policy of free parking at libraries say that an hourly fee would discourage low-income residents by creating a "de facto admissions fee" and would discriminate against residents who use libraries in the county's more urban areas.
Opponents contend that free library-only parking is difficult for librarians to monitor in areas where others must pay and that subsidized parking encourages residents to drive, instead of using public transportation.
The council appears narrowly divided on the issue, after passing a free-parking policy two years ago. Under the current system, the county reimburses the City of Rockville, which owns the garage adjacent to the library, about $90,000 a year.
According to the resolution approved in 2006, charging for parking "may impose a barrier for the poor, may discourage other residents as well from using libraries and establish a de facto admissions fee for the many county residents who have no reasonable way of getting to a library other than driving."
The resolution passed 6 to 2, over the objections of council members George L. Leventhal (D-At Large) and Marilyn Praisner (D-Eastern County).
Leventhal raised the library parking issue again during the recent budget debate when council members were looking to shave spending. In an e-mail to Leventhal, Rockville City Council member Anne M. Robbins called the goal of free parking a "great aid to democracy." She said that Franklin, the founder of the nation's free library system, "understood that the very foundation of a free society depends on the education of its citizens."
Leventhal said this week that parking fees are a small but necessary hardship of using libraries in congested urban areas. Hospital patrons pay for parking, he said, as do residents who testify at the County Council building. According to Leventhal's research, libraries in Baltimore, the District and Franklin's home town of Philadelphia do not provide free parking.
"Benjamin Franklin promoted reading; he did not promote free parking," Leventhal said, adding that the U.S. Constitution provides for free speech and freedom of religion and assembly "but not free parking."
Council members Roger Berliner (D-Potomac-Bethesda) and Valerie Ervin (D-Silver Spring) joined Leventhal in sponsoring the resolution to end free library parking, which is slated for consideration next week. The Silver Spring Citizens Advisory Board, which has reviewed plans for the new Silver Spring library, backs his position.
On the other side, council member Phil Andrews (D-Gaithersburg-Rockville) said a change in policy would have a disparate effect on residents with disabilities because the Rockville Library houses the countywide Disability Resource Collection. He said the parking fee at the library would be $1 an hour.
Libraries in Rockville and Bethesda would be initially affected if free parking ends, but the decision also could have repercussions for patrons of libraries planned for Silver Spring and Derwood. Bethesda Library patrons paid for parking until two years ago.