15 Sep 2014
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County Takeover of the Public Library

On May 1, 2014 the staff of the Baltimore County Public Library, an organization of over 800 employees, were notified that the Baltimore County Office of Information Technology would assume the departments of BCPL’s Information Services, Technology Support, including the Integrated Library Support staff, and Graphic Artists. This follows the County’s absorption of the library maintenance and delivery staff which occurred on April 1, 2014.

 

The BCPL Board of Trustees and Administration were informed of this reduction in staff only after the 2015 budget had been presented by the County. The Administration has asked the County Budget office numerous questions repeatedly as to the purpose of assuming control of library functions and what effects this will have on the community and staff only to be ignored. Each request for information and clarification has been disregarded.

 

While it may seem an inconsequential matter to the majority of the public at first, this shift would in fact result in a major disruption in the quality of service provided to the community. The Baltimore County Public Library system of 19 branches is one of the largest and most successful in the country, receiving over four million visitors annually. A 2013 study by the Pew Research Center’s Library Services shows that 95% of Americans over the age of 16 agree the resources of the library play an important role in giving people a chance to succeed. Libraries are no longer a place for checking out books or movies. They are an integral part in the community, allowing everyone access to computers, employment information and assistance, children’s programs, lectures and so much more.

 

The most important factor is the support these three departments provide, support that would be gravely affected once assumed into the County. The Technology Support and Integrated Library Services department is responsible for a system which in 2013 handled over five million visits to the BCPL website, aided in the circulation of over 260,000 e-books, magazines and audio books and provided over 800,000 uses of the library’s public PC’s and 44,000 uses of free Wi-Fi. The Information Services department, a team of librarians, answered more than 1.5 million questions and customer service inquiries. These are library-specific functions that have no place in the infrastructure of the Baltimore County IT system. The proposed plan is to take these people and move them into a structure in which they have no background and conversely, the County’s office has no experience in library function.

 

The only reasoning given is that these are cost saving measures. This is not accurate. The shifting of budgets from one area to another is not a cost saving measure. It also does not take into account the cost of physically moving departments, equipment, servers and the like and does not account for the expense created by the disruption and decline of service to the community. No reasoning has been provided to the library as governed by a Board of Trustees and chartered by the State of Maryland as to these proposed changes.

 

The timing of these proposed changes is most curious as the current library director will retire after 18 years of service at the end of June. This announcement was made in October 2013 and it appears that this time has been identified as the weakest, the best time for the strike to be made as it were.

 

A hearing on these proposed changes is scheduled for May 15th and voting will occur the following week. It is important for the community this library serves to become aware of these proposed changes. This request needs to be rejected and no change should be made until all the questions have been answered and clear, timely explanations provided.

The County Council will vote on this budget Thursday the 22nd. Without answers or directions and under dubious and illegal moves, the people of the County cannot allow this to occur.

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