A group of Arlington residents, alarmed that the Cherrydale branch of the Arlington County Library was destined to become a "pop" library, has sent a petition of protest to the County Board.

But county librarians insist that the Cherrydale library won't be schlock-on-a-shelf, as some patrons had thought. Shakespeare and Encyclopedia Brittanica will not give way to multiple copies of "Jane Fonda's Workout Book" or Rosemary Rogers' "Wicked Loving Lies."

The Cherrydale library will, however, begin to stock more best sellers and current fiction. It also will lean more heavily toward gardening and cookbooks, because that is what Cherrydale's library users' want, said branch librarian Bruce Dack.

Dack, who has been Cherrydale's branch librarian for two of his 10 years in the profession, bristles at the term "pop" library. "It should not be called a pop library -- it is a popular library. The central library has a complete and comprehensive collection. Our thinking was that we didn't need to maintain a branch library as complete and comprehensive," he said.

Libraries across the country are turning to the marketing amd display methods of bookstores, Dack said. "If they can do it, why can't we?"

About two years ago, librarians began weeding through Cherrydale's 32,000 books to remove those that hadn't circulated in two years, that contained obsolete information or were falling apart. The book weeding became more intensive during the last two months because new shelves were ready to be installed. Dack said that 781 books were taken off the shelves in March and April, but aides involved in the process don't know how many were removed over the last two years. He said the reference collection was reduced 10 to 15 percent.

Many books have gone to the shelves at the central library on North Quincy Street, others were sold to the public and the ones in unsalvageable condition were destroyed.

Eleanor Pourron, Arlington County Library's coordinator for adult and young adult services who was in charge of book weeding at Cherrydale, said people get nervous when they see changes. She said the weeding-out was most visible during the last two months as huge boxes of outward-bound books were stacked two and three deep. The library also was closed for five days to install the new shelves.

"We thought it was more feasible to reduce the number of esoteric books because it's so close to central library. All of the branch libraries have a different emphasis depending on the neighborhood they're located in," Pourron said. Because the Columbia Pike branch library is inside the county's career center, it has more books on nursing, horticulture, auto mechanics, hotel management and construction, Pourron noted.

She said that she transferred several shelves of books on literary criticism from the Cherrydale branch to the central library, but she left "a lot there, including plays and poetry."

"We really aren't changing the library that much. We put more emphasis on buying current fiction. People like mysteries, contemporary fiction and biographies," Pourron said.

"The definition of a popular library is that they buy multiple copies, lots of paperbacks, romances and all the schlock that comes out. Some popular libraries in Baltimore County have 100 copies of the same thing, for example, stuff from best seller lists, James Michener. Harold Robbins," Pourron said.

Arlington doesn't have the money for multiple copies, she said.

Students will still be able to find information at Cherrydale for short papers, but if they have a research paper, Pourron advised them to go the main branch.

"We're really only trying to make it Cherrydale better. But unfortunately that message wasn't gotten across," said Pourron.

But Cherrydale's staff does plan to adopt the display techniques used by bookstores and some libraries in Fairfax and Baltimore county, where popular libraries gained recent vogue as minilibraries. Light-colored wood shelves with the possibility for lighted display signs have replaced heavy dark shelves at Cherrydale.

Lilienne Emrich, who started the petition against the pop library, said she became alarmed when she could not find a few of her favorite books on Cherrydale's shelves, among them the collected works of Oscar Wilde, which were transferred to the central branch.

In response to the petition, the county manager's office issued a memo to assure patrons that classics and semiclassics will be kept on the shelves. The library also invited Emrich to help survey Cherrydale patrons to determine what books they want. The survey will be conducted this summer or fall.

"I didn't think buying popular novels was a valuable use of my tax dollars. We were afraid that there would be radical changes," Emrich said. After talking with the director of libraries, Lelia Saunders, Emrich said, she has adopted a wait-and-see attitude.

Ronald Gephart, a manuscript specialist at the Library of Congress, signed the petition because he said he has seen a gradual deterioration in the quality of the Cherrydale library over the past 15 years.

Donald McGuire, a retired geneticist, said he signed the petition because he thought the county was planning to close the branch, but he has mixed feelings about a popular library.

"Literacy in the general population is declining. If we can get people to read one romance a month instead of nothing -- that's an improvement," McGuire said. "But our society's values and history are learned through the classics and our technology is revealed through reference works. I think there's arguments on both sides."