Librarians and readers alike are protesting the proposed Montgomery County library budget for scrimping on funds for books and for recommending that one county library be closed.
"The whole library budget is deficient," said Joe Green, librarian at White Oak Library, one of 19 operated by the county. "But the book budget seemed to suffer the most."
County Executive James P. Gleason recommended a budget of $7,249,217 to operate the county libraries in fiscal 1979. Of that, $608,000 is earmarked to purchase books. Even though that is more than last year, library officials said it will not allow the county to even begin to meet the state-recommended minimum of 2.5 books per county resident by 1980. Green said the budget proposal will mean that the county, which now has about 2.1 books per person, will not meet the minimum until 1983.
"I know it's not the most vital issue for taxpayers," said Aspen Hill librarian Carolyn Van Dyck, "but it is vital. Education goes on for your whole life. If you're not in high school or college, you have no place to go to check out books for free."
"Just walk into our library on any saturday," said Marvin Kranz, a member of the Bethesda Library Advisory Committee. "People don't walk in and get one booK. They come out with an armful. It's a very impressive sight."
The Montgomery County library system has the second highest per capita circulation of any library system in the country, according to Norman Finkler, director of the county Department of Public Libraries. (The first is Baltimore County.) Last year, for instance, people borrowed 5.5 million pieces of material from Montgomery County libraries, he said, which means that for each county resident 9.2 books were borrowed.
"I admit that the book budget is really very low for what our needs are," said Finkler, who suggested the budget before sending it to Gleason. "But I had a ceiling to comply with; I'm a disciplined bureaucrat."
Finkler suggested that the book budget be $600,000, but Gleason, before approving the proposal, increased that figure to $608,000. In a recent work session, the county council decided to try to increase the book budget by $100,000.
Finkler said the average price libraries pay for hardcover books, including special library discounts, is $5.50 a volume. With $608,000, the county could buy roughly 110,000 books. Not all the books would be new ones, however; some would be replacements and other would be duplicates for library branches. Still, Finkler said, the libraries are not replacing worn-out books as fast as they should be or acquiring enough new ones. He added that if he could write the ideal budget he would recommend a book budget "closer to $800,000."
Residents concerned about the budget have asked the County Council to increase the book budget to $775,000 so the county can meet the 1980 deadline on the state recommendation for books. White Oak library patrons alone wrote more than 100 letters asking that the budget be increased, said Green. At the Aspen Hill library, 1,400 persons signed a petition asking that for a budget hike. Others testified at county council budget hearings.
Even Gleason has gotten into the act because his neighborhood library, the Four Corners branch, would be closed to save money. Gleason, a frequent patron of the library, disagrees with the recommendations of his budget analysts regarding the Four Corners branch and has sent a memo to the county council telling them so.
"It won't close if he has anything to do with it," said Gleason's aide Charles Maier.
In a recent work session, the council voted to try to keep the branch open.
Because Four Corners is in the Silver Spring area, which has several other libraries, the county could close the Four Corners branch and offer residents the services of the other libraries in the area, still saving the county money, said Finkler. But one simply doesn't close libraries, according to Finkler.
"Not only is it unusual, it's a very difficult thing to do. Libraries are like motherhood and God," he said.
And county residents re taking a hand in pointing out that the library is economical. Gleason's memo to the council, Finkler said, pointed out that Four Corners was at least as economical to operate as the Silver Spring and Little Falls branches and even more economical than the Long Branch and Noyes branches, all in the Silver Spring area.
Raymond Maritn, a retired patent attorney and chairman of the library advisory committee, added that the Four Corners branch library is within walking distance of three elementary schools. He said his informal surveys of people who came into the library during March showed that 20 percent of them lived within walking distance. Finkler, however, said that studies at the University of Maryland indicate that no more than 10 percent of library patrons walk to their libraries.
Martin also said he has collected statements from 17 merchants in the Four Corners Shopping Center, where the library is located, telling the county council that the closing of the library could result in lost business for them.
The final decision on the library budget will be made after the council surveys other budget cuts or additions. The entire county budget must be approved by May 15.