Aspen Hill Library volunteers fear upcoming book sale could be its last
Friends chapter required by county to limit storage, which could deter sales, members say
Aspen Hill Library volunteers have less than a month to go before the annual spring book sale, but they are worried a change in how the library allows them to store book donations will make this the last one.
And if the book sales go, so does money the Friends of the Library and the Aspen Hill Library Advisory Committee raise to help purchase supplies the library system cannot.
The county library system has ordered the Aspen Hill chapter of Friends of the Library to remove equipment stored in the library's mechanical room and has restricted the number of donated items that can be kept at the Aspen Hill branch.
Elliot Chabot, chairman of the Aspen Hill Library Advisory Committee, said the library system told members of the chapter in January that neither staff nor volunteers could store items in the mechanical room, and any items already stored there had to be removed by March 1.
Chabot said the Friends group often stored equipment such as book carts, tables and signs for the book sale in the room, which is on the main floor of the library. He said the chapter also was told in January it only could store six double-sided wire racks worth of books in the library's meeting room downstairs. The book racks are about 5 feet high and 60 inches wide, with four 60-inch shelves on each side and four 24-inch shelves on each end.
"That's not even half of what we put out on book sale day," he said.
Carol Legarreta, the library system's administrator for public services, said the Risk Assessment Division of the county's Department of General Services said the storage of items in the library's mechanical room was a safety hazard. The department sets guidelines on how building spaces can be used.
"These must be cleared out per [the Department of] General Services' directive," Legaretta wrote in an email to The Gazette.
The Friends chapter responded with a letter of protest that asked the library administration and the county to reconsider the decision.
Ari Brooks, executive director of the Montgomery County Friends of the Library, said the county also expressed concerns about the long-term use of cardboard boxes to store donations at the Aspen Hill Library, citing pest control and sanitation issues.
Montgomery County Friends of the Library was founded in 1982 and incorporated as a nonprofit organization the following year. The organization supplements the basic operating funds provided for libraries in the county's annual budget.
The county's Friends of the Library expenses in 2009 were roughly $849,000, according to its Internal Revenue Service forms filed on Guidestar, an online site that tracks financial reporting of nonprofit organizations. The total revenue was more than $861,000, which included more than $115,000 in grants and contributions.
The Aspen Hill Friends chapter has two book sales each year, one in the spring and one in the fall.
Chabot said his chapter raises about $2,500 to $2,600 each year from its two sales.
He said proceeds from the book sales have been used to purchase such items as diaper decks for the women's restroom, computers and a movie screen for the meeting room.
This year, the Aspen Hill Friends spent $700 for several sets of Usborne beginning readers for the library's summer reading program.
Brooks said the Aspen Hill Friends is the only chapter out of 16 that continues to have large, public book sales.
She said the Aspen Hill Friends also is the only chapter operating from a library branch that does not have a separate storage space other than the library's meeting room.
"It's not like the library system is coming down on one group," she said. "They're being responsive to the department that is operating this facility."
Chris Swan, president of the Aspen Hill Friends and Chabot's wife, said part of the problem contributing to the storage issue is the library is not big enough to accommodate its patrons. The Aspen Hill Library was built in 1967, closed for renovation in 1989 and reopened in 1991.
"We'd really like to see our library be put on a renovation list," she said. "It's a very busy, busy place, but very tiny."
The Aspen Hill Library has an average of 200,000 to 250,000 patrons each year.
Legaretta said the library occupies 16,100 square feet.
Chabot said the book sale is a major community event drawing hundreds of visitors.
"People are literally lined up out the door when it opens," Swan said. "You cannot even really move around in the book sale in the first hour. There are so many people looking at books."
Swan said she has been in contact with library administration officials and is optimistic that a solution can be worked out. An arrangement has been made that allows the Aspen Hill Friends to store equipment and donations in the library a month prior to a book sale and a month following a book sale.
Legarreta said Montgomery County Public Libraries is looking at other options for the Aspen Hill Friends of the Library to temporarily store donated items and equipment when it has exceeded the space allotted to it at the library.
If you go
The Aspen Hill Friends Book Sale will be from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. May 7 at the library, 4407 Aspen Hill Road.
High-quality used books will be available at bargain prices, usually $1 for hardbacks and 50 cents for paperbacks.
Book donations are needed, especially fiction. Through April and early May, a Friends of the Library member will collect donations from 2 to 4 p.m. Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays at the front of the library. Donations can be accepted at other days and times by calling Chris Swan at 301-871-1113 or sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Donations also are accepted any time on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday the week of the sale.
For volunteer opportunities, call Aleen Chabot at 301-871-7448.
Montgomery County Public Libraries is conducting a customer satisfaction survey at 20 of its branches as part of National Library Week. Saturday is the last day to complete the survey.
The survey is for patrons ages 12 and older, and can be accessed at www.montgomerycountymd.gov/library. Spanish and Chinese versions of the survey also are available.
The results of the survey will be posted on the Montgomery County Public Libraries website. Administrators will use the results to help plan future strategies for all aspects of library operations.