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The Magician

Anne Arundel County Public Library’s
new administrator, Skip Auld,
is learning to pull dollars
out of thin air

Skip Auld will have to be a magician to pull all he wants out of Anne Arundel County Public Library’s incredible shrinking budget.
    Anne Arundel was a big step up for Auld, who came here in early November from running the Durham County public library system, about half the size of Anne Arundel County, in North Carolina.
    Auld’s big promotion came with a bigger problem.
    Total library funding has fallen 16 percent since 2007, Auld and his staff report. From a high of $17,022,300 in fiscal year 2009, the operating budget — money that keeps buildings open but doesn’t buy books or fix leaky roofs — fell to $15,341,700 in 2011.
    At the same time, Auld says, “other county agencies were being cut seven percent or less.”
    Auld got hired on a vision of libraries “as the most vital places where people of all ages gather to freely pursue knowledge, information and enjoyment of life.”
    In this Age of Information, the 59-year-old lifelong public librarian says, growing with our society means “people are just totally dependent on us being there and open a good amount of the time. Job-seekers, students, seniors, parents and their children need our services, from preschool programs and books and story times to computers and programs and tutoring rooms, study rooms, conference and meeting rooms.”
    To see if Auld is right, Bay Weekly spent two months visiting public libraries throughout Anne Arundel County at all hours seven days and nights a week. We found vital places where people of all ages gather early and late for all sorts of reasons.
    Statistics draw the big picture: 2,837,885 library visits in 2010; 168,483,997 web page viewings.
    Our visits added detail and color to the big picture.

 

 

With 12 furlough days scheduled for this year, many visitors are likely to find locked doors.

Thursday at Crofton Library

    Crofton Library opens at 9am on Thursdays according to posted hours. By 10:30 on the last Thursday of the old year, the building was still unlit, with seven frustrated people locked out in the cold and more cars pulling in. Finally somebody reads out a sign on the dark window: Closed for furlough.

    People are pounding on the library doors, but for more and more hours, those doors are closed.
    Furlough days keep coming, from Martin Luther King and Presidents Day to two three-day closures in April and over Memorial Day to make a total of 12 this fiscal year.
    Anne Arundel County libraries are not the only public services where doors are locked. Except in public safety jobs, furloughs are county-wide, to help close a $93 million gap to balance last year’s budget.
    Lock library doors, and you’re locking people out.
    Libraries are popular public places, drawing more visits and a broader spectrum of typically happy visitors than any other county agency.
    That’s what library administrators like to believe, with some evidence.
    Anne Arundel public libraries were rated as the best buy for tax dollars by 81 percent of citizens surveyed back in 2000, according to Dan Nataf, who runs the Semi-Annual Survey for the Center for the Study of Local Issues at Anne Arundel Community College. More recent surveys put libraries high on the list of county services that deserve to keep their funding, though not at the top of the list of services that merit more funding.
    “Libraries are closer in touch with a hands-on feel for more citizens than any other county function,” says Auld.
    Furlough days are the latest — not necessarily the last — cutback in hours at Anne Arundel’s public libraries.
    The 10 smaller branches lost their Monday morning hours and are now open only 44 hours a week. Crofton and Severna Park branches also lost their Sunday hours, cutting back to 64 open hours each week. Three more branches — Annapolis, Glen Burnie and Odenton — open for four hours on Sunday afternoons during the school year, for a 68-hour week 30 weeks of the year.
    The only branch open on Sundays all year long is Maryland City — open 48 hours a week — whose Sunday hours are paid for by the Russett community with discretionary money from the Laurel Racetrack Impact Fee.
    “During a time when job-seekers, students, seniors, parents, and their children need services more than ever, our public libraries are closing the doors,” Auld laments.
    Eight-year library board president Joan Beck compares “cutting the numbers of hours you’re open to finding closed doors at the grocery store you go to for milk and bread.”

Wednesday at Edgewater Library

    At 7:30pm, a man and a woman sit on opposite sides of a library table. Her computer is open, and she’s talking earnestly, gesturing, underscoring the lesson they’ve just shared.
    “I know it’s a lot,” she says. “Was it too much?”
    “No,” he says, but there’s hesitation in his voice.
    She hears his doubt. “You still have a place to live,” she says. “You’re going to find a job. We’ve got your resume finished, and you just have to take the next step.”

    From 5 to 9pm on Wednesdays and 1 to 5pm Thursdays, Edgewater Library doubles as a job-counseling center. Five other libraries have their own job-counseling schedules in a service-expanding partnership with the Anne Arundel County Workforce Development Corporation. Federal stimulus money let the partners fill a growing gap between need and service.
    The need became clear when Annapolis Town Centre at Parole was getting ready to hire.
    “The West Street library was inundated with people wanting to apply for jobs at Target and the other new stores,” recounts library information officer Laurie Hayes. “Applications were taken only online, and a lot of people who needed the jobs didn’t have computers or Internet or email addresses. So they were coming to library staff for help on everything from how to use computers to coming up with a resume.”
    Now, “We’ve helped over 1,600 people,” Hayes says.

For Maria Love and her mom and family, the library is a place for education and entertainment.

Tuesday at South County Library

   Maryann Cusimano Love is a mother of three small children and a professor of international studies at Catholic University. Most weeks she works in the afternoon, so Wednesdays and Saturdays are her only possible library mornings.

    “The cuts to library hours are a real difficulty for young families,” Love says, “because by the time the library opens at 1pm it is already naptime for young children.”
    Love and her youngsters “love the story time hours,” which she calls “terrific for school readiness, as well as fun.” Like many young families, the Love family checks the library calendar for special children’s activities.
    Even when activities aren’t scheduled, there’s plenty to do at the library.
    For Love’s family, the library is a place for education and entertainment. But if they had to, they’d find substitutes. Other people she sees there have fewer choices. “When we arrive early,” she says, “people are waiting to get inside and use the services, particularly the computers, which are a lifeline to many folks in search of jobs.”

Monday at Brooklyn Park Library

    Skip Auld got to know his new job library by library. He wasn’t just looking; he was borrowing.
    Like 80 percent of library book readers, Auld browsed through the shelves to find books that piqued his curiosity. He found and checked out a National Geographic history of science and invention and a mystery by a favorite author, Kathy Reich.

    If Auld had been looking for a popular new book, he’d have had a harder time walking out with it.
    “Our book budget has been devastated,” Auld says. “We need $3 million every year, and we’re not getting it.”
    The capital budget — which includes what we read — plummeted from $3,450,000 in 2008 to $1,856,000 this year.
    “Before the budget crisis, we would have bought 700 copies of the last Harry Potter to keep the waiting time down to a month or two. Now, we might order 150 or 200.
    “For mid-range titles, we used to buy a copy for every one of the 15 libraries. Now we might buy three total,” Auld says.
    New media demand more money, thus competing with traditional books.
    “Electronic books are taking off,” Auld says, referring to books you download directly from the library’s electronic holdings to your computer or iPod. And people want them. So the library is compelled to buy them.
    “We have to pay for the electronic licenses,” Auld explains. “Yet they’re not replacing regular printed books, so we have to find money for both.”
    That was just last year. Next year, Auld knows as he prepares the new budget, will be worse.

photo by Aries Matheos

Computers link students to the wonders of the electronic age at the Annapolis branch library.

Sunday at Annapolis Library

    People surge into Annapolis Library in the last hour before Sunday’s 5pm closing. There are browsers, readers and homework doers. Kids’ corner computers are the library’s favorite homework station. Both are almost always in use after school and on holidays. This February afternoon, two elementary school girls are fully engaged, reading, printing, searching for answers. Their parents let them work their way through it, entertaining themselves by browsing through movies on DVD.

    Computers link students to the wonders of the electronic age, with programs like HelpNow! Powered by Brainfuse, where students work with real live tutors seven days a week between the hours of 3 and 10pm; At Writing Lab, live editors critique students’ writing with 24-hour feedback.
    Like these kids, you can work on computers at the library or any other place you’ve got computer access.
    All these homework helpers are subscription services the library pays for out of its materials budget, the same budget that pays for books, talking books, videos, DVDs, magazines and newspapers.
    That budget, the capital budget, is funded entirely by Anne Arundel County, and it’s up for cutting again this year, when the county expects to have to make up a $28.9 million shortfall. The library — and all other county agencies — was under orders to cut 10 percent from its budget submissions for next year.

Saturday at North County Library

    If you want to use a library computer, you should visit the Glen Burnie library during a Ravens game. During the buildup to the playoff game, the library’s computer bay was a ghost town — which is to say that two computers were open.
    An elderly man rests his cane on the floor by his feet as he screens episodes of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine over headphones. To his right is a woman filling out an online resume. Some forward-thinking workers have brought their own laptops, taking advantage of free WiFi.
    One lone tow-headed child skips through the stacks of children’s books, pausing occasionally to pull out a colorful cover and hand it to her father. “This too!” She cries handing him a bold red-and-blue picture book.

    Let’s hope she reads it gently, without peanut butter.
    “Books have a life,” Auld says. “Imagine children’s picture books; they’re checked out 40 or 100 times, and read two or three times in every home. Think of the wear they get. And we don’t have a single dime in our budget for replacement.”

Friday at Eastport Library

    There’s a traffic jam in the parking lot this sunny afternoon. Inside the library, people are working at all the computers. Homework pairs are working at a couple of tables. In the children’s section, 83-year-old Peg Burroughs is choosing the simple book she’ll read to Headstarters next week. Where the newspapers used to be, a handful of people browse and choose tax forms. Only the Baltimore Sun, Capital and Gazette still come by subscription. Only the five large branch libraries still subscribe to the Washington Post or New York Times — unless a news-loving branch patron donates a gift subscription.
    Magazines still fill two shelving sections and cover many interests. Across the board, however, subscriptions have been cut by 80 percent.

    Do patrons complain?
    “They used to,” says librarian Tim Van Fleet. “Now they’re becoming accustomed to less. And a lot of magazines and newspapers make their publications available online, many for free.”
    Like newspapers and magazines, libraries extend their reach with online services.
    “The online library is virtually another branch,” Auld says. A half million transactions took place online last year, from placing holds on books to streaming music to downloading e-books and audio files.
    We get those benefits free, but the library pays, by subscription or fee. More means less in these times, with every new media opportunity increasing the competition for less money. Here’s one example: Naxos Music Library continues as an online library offering only because a patron who loves it donated $1,000 to reinstate the cut service. That’s why everyone in the county has the benefit of that free music library.

 

Get to Know Skip Auld

Fifty-nine-year-old Hampton Auld still goes by the childhood nickname of Skip because the name Hampton was fully occupied by his military grandfather and father.

After college, Auld lived and worked in Iran for two years, 1973 and 1974, as a Peace Corps volunteer.

Auld helped his son organize a book drive for Rwanda to earn the rank of Eagle Scout.

That son is now 25 years old and a rigger with Ringling Brothers Circus.

To beat the stress of his new job, Auld takes yoga classes.

Auld carries his own trash home at the end of each workday because the library can’t afford trash collection.

Auld has gotten to know his new county by touring all 15 of its libraries.

Make It or Break It

    “This is make-or-break time,” Auld says. “Anne Arundel libraries are not holding the line. They’ve fallen behind.”
    For Each Anne Arundel citizen, our public libraries have $40.81 to spend. Baltimore City, by comparison, spends $56.60 per citizen on its libraries. Harford County, which invests more in its library system than any other Maryland jurisdiction, spends $90 per citizen.
    “Our libraries were mainly built from the 1960s to the 1990s, before the age of computers and Internet and e-books,” Auld says. “We need to modernize, and it’s going to take a decade.”
    And it’s going to take money.
    So Auld had better have some tricks up his sleeve.

Library public meeting with Skip Auld begin this week in a Save Our Services! campaign.

Thurs. March 10: 7pm at West County Area Library, Odenton.
Thurs. March 17: 7pm Annapolis Area Library.
Thurs. March 24: 7pm North County Area Library, Glen Burnie.
Thurs. March 31: 7pm South County Area Library, Deale.