Howard County library officials say demand for more services and new branches continues to increase, with studies showing that 95.4 percent of the county's population holds library cards.

On Tuesday, library officials and consultants unveiled drafts of building programs, ranging between $47 million and $55 million, to expand the system to serve the county's growing population into 2030. The $26 million centerpiece of the expansion would be a new 82,500-square-foot building to replace the Miller Branch Library in Ellicott City.

The plan calls for replacing or expanding branch libraries in Elkridge and Savage, and constructing new ones in the Waverly Woods area to the north and the Maple Lawn area to the south.

The plan also calls for converting the existing Miller Branch library in Ellicott City into office space. Administrative and support offices located in the county's Central and East Columbia libraries would be moved to that site, opening up more public space in those two heavily used branches.

The draft plan was developed by the Arizona-based Providence Associates Inc., which reviewed existing library facilities and projected future needs. The consultants worked with county planners and groups of library users, who advocated longer hours, more materials and additional meeting rooms.

The consultants estimated that a county needs one square foot of library space per resident. By that standard, the Howard system is undersized, providing 169,000 square feet of facilities for a population of 273,400. By 2030, when the county population is expected to have grown to 320,000, library facilities should be nearly double their current size, the consultants said.

Valerie Gross, Howard County Library director, said the system has an intensive outreach program through the schools, senior centers and other institutions to get library cards to residents. In contrast to the 95.4 percent of Howard residents estimated to hold library cards, the nationwide average is 51.6 percent, she said.

"It's a question of looking at the needs in the county," Gross said. "Like the school system that provides equal access to education K through 12, we provide equal access to education from birth through senior."

The library plans need to pass muster with County Executive James N. Robey and the County Council, who must balance expenditures against a range of long-term needs as they discuss the budget for the coming year.