East Montgomery County libraries spared from significant budget cuts
Silver Spring and Long Branch libraries won't have slimmed-down services
A proposal to reduce services at four county libraries was scrapped when the Montgomery County Council voted Thursday to restore funding to Montgomery County Public Libraries.
In an effort to save the county $1.2 million, County Executive Isiah Leggett (D) had proposed converting the Silver Spring, Long Branch, Chevy Chase and Twinbrook libraries into "neighborhood libraries." Each of those four libraries would contain limited collections and cut back staff. They would also provide programming arranged by staff from other nearby libraries instead of from people on-site.
But the county council voted to restore $460,000 to maintain information staff at the four libraries and another $1 million to purchase materials for libraries countywide. Combined with other restored library funding, the county's libraries took only modest cuts with no front-line positions eliminated, according to Parker Hamilton, the director of Montgomery County Public Libraries.
Since 2008, the library budget was cut by $40 million. For this upcoming fiscal year, a 9.7 percent reduction in funding was proposed, but the council ultimately approved a 1.6 percent funding reduction, Hamilton said.
"Our advocates have been out in force for the last four years," she said. "This year, it was a very organized, strategic approach, and I think it made a difference."
A council staff report dated May 2 said the shift to a neighborhood library model would have particularly affected users of the Silver Spring and Long Branch communities, because they are located four or five miles from other area or community libraries. Silver Spring's branch is also a well-used library, the report said, and its circulation is higher than some other libraries not proposed for reduction.
Ari Brooks, executive director of the Friends of the Library Montgomery County, said she's ecstatic with the budget that was passed, but the county needs to address the fact that the library system remains underfunded for such a large county.
In the meantime, though, this fiscal year's funding will let residents continue to enjoy quality services, particularly at the sites proposed for cost-cutting measures.
"They'll have information staff that's physically right there in front of them," she said. "They won't have to pick up a phone and call someone at a different location. They'll also be able to benefit from on-site programs which were created on site by libraries who know that community."
Ann Dorough, the president of the Friends of the Library Montgomery County, said library cuts over the past several years meant library users often walked out of the library without the book they wanted. Library hours were also trimmed, which had a big impact on residents in areas like Wheaton and Long Branch that often work more than one job. And from a socioeconomic standpoint, libraries are essential tools for job searches, education and helping immigrants assimilate.
"Libraries are not a luxury," she said. "They're a part of our social safety net."