Almost every day at 9 a.m. Raymond Turetsky, a retired mathematics teacher, steps through the glass doors of the Kensington Park public library and heads for the newspapers. It is a routine he has observed faithfully for seven years, he says, ever since he quit the D.C. public school system.
On most days he stays about 90 minutes. He reads The Wall Street Journal (he has a few investments that warrant following), The New York Times and various political magazines. He checks the "Librarian's Choice" shelf for novels and nonfiction that catch his interest. Two days a week, he brings a French-made chess set and works out problems in The Times.
Beginning July 1, Raymond Turetsky's routine will be disrupted. Kensington Park, like many of Montgomery County's 19 libraries, will stay closed two mornings a week to save money. Turetsky hasn't yet decided what he will do on those two mornings -- Tuesdays and Thursdays -- but the 68-year-old man admits to being "very much annoyed" with the change.
Like library systems around the Washington area, Montgomery's is feeling the pinch of the drive against government spending. The system's outlay for fiscal year 1982 is to rise by over 12 percent to about $10 million, but salary increases, the cost of running two new libraries and inflation are expected to wipe out that gain. Fairfax, Arlington and Prince George's County libraries face similar problems.
Compared to the crunch the District of Columbia system faces -- its budget for the next fiscal year could be about $1.3 million lower than this year's -- Montgomery's problems seem insignificant, but for thousands of people in Montgomery the impact still is significant.
Almost half of all county residents hold borrower's cards, and per capita circulation of library material was ranked second nationwide in a 1979 survey (Baltimore County was first). Even inmates at the county jail keep up on their reading, checking out 19,000 books in fiscal year 1980 on any subject they chose, save locksmithing.
Nonetheless, beginning next week, many libraries will reduce operations by four to eight hours a week. Children's programs will be curtailed. Bookmobile runs will drop from three to two. Purchase of phonograph records will cease altogether and staff members will be spread more sparsely through the system's carpeted reading rooms and stacks.
Kensington Park, where on an average day 400 people browse and take out books, will close two mornings a week, lose two staff positions and reduce children's programs.
Montgomery's cutbacks are the culmination of years of retrenchment that began after the flush times of the mid-1960s came to an end. Staff work-load has increased. Funds for acquisition have dropped far below what many would like, creating a shortage of many high-demand titles. By Wednesday this week, for instance, 698 people already were on a computerized reserve list for the system's 107 copies of the best-selling novel Gorky Park.
Onedevice that library system director Agnes Griffen feels is helping to cushion the impact of the cuts is a reshuffle known in the book-lending trade as "regionalization."
Instead of trying to make each library's collection equal, large and centrally located facilities are designated regional libraries -- in Montgomery they are in Rockville, Bethesda, Wheaton and, to open in July, Gaithersburg. Each contains a specialty collection -- science, or the arts, for instance. It also has more extensive shelves of references, fiction and specialty periodicals.
Neighborhood libraries like Kensington Park, meanwhile, become administrative satellites, housing smaller collections that focus more on high demand items like best-sellers, historical romances (Gone with the Wind ranks among the system's all-time top circulators), mysteries and magazines. Research aids for schoolchildren, do-it-yourself texts and records also are provided.
The satellites have shorter hours -- in Kensington Park's case 56 hours a week -- and close altogether one day a week to save on wages and utilities. In contrast, the regional libraries stay open seven days a week, servicing card-holders whose neighborhood facility is closed -- such as Raymond Turetsky, who on Sundays often bicycles to his regional library in Wheaton.
The D.C., Prince George's and Fairfax systems have adopted similar schemes. Montgomery's system began heading in this direction several years ago. Director Griffen intends to complete the transformation by September, despite opposition from citizens' advisory groups.
The schemes' critics feel it jeopardizes the future of local libraries and simply adds a new layer of bureaucracy. "We think we have to look at it more closely," says Judith Neri, former chairwoman of the Long Branch Library Advisory Committee. She argues that regionalization should await the findings of a long-range planning study due next summer.
Related plans to downgrade Bethesda's Davis library from regional to local and designate the Gaithersburg library the county's fourth regional facility also has sparked complaints that the up-county region is being favored over the more densely populated down-county communities inside the Beltway.
Library officials acknowledge that there is an element of hit-and-miss in the new approach. It is unclear, director Griffen points out, whether shorter hours will, in fact, mean less use of the libraries, or whether employes at the computerized check-out stations simply will be that much busier when the libraries are open.
Two new facilities, at Gaithersburg and Olney (their construction was financed by separate county capital budgets), are scheduled to open in the coming year, but because staffing in the system as a whole is authorized to rise only by 13 slots, employes will be spread thinner.
Other steps toward economy include reducing runs by bookmobiles, which now circulate about 18,000 volumes a month, from three runs to two a day. That would save about $23,000 on salaries for librarian and driver, as well as some fuel.
Purchase of records is to be suspended for the entire year. That will save about $30,000, but will mean about 4,000 fewer records will enter the system's collection, which already suffers heavily from wear and theft (about half the records are stolen within two or three years, one library employe estimated).
Kensington Park, meanwhile, will lose funding for two full-time librarians. That will result in longer waits at the desk, less help in finding books, and fewer special programs, such as night-time reading sessions for children and book discussions for adults, according to librarian Marie Rosche.
A half-time "page" charged with returning books to shelves also will be lost, meaning, as Rosche points out, that more books effectively will be lost to circulation as they wait to be reshelved. The sole staff addition planned is a half-timer for the information desk.
Perhaps the only new service planned for next year is centralized telephone research. At present patrons call their local libraries with questions about prescription medicines, the execution of wills or anything else on which they need quick information. At a cost of $130,000, the new system will channel such calls to a central bank of researchers.
Despite their complaints librarians and readers concede the cuts are not as bad as what was feared last fall. The system initially was instructed to devise a budget 7 percent below the current year's.But civic groups organized a write-in effort that in some weeks generated letters at a rate second only to those about school cuts.