Book People

a speech by Paulette Dickerson

Chair, Montgomery County Library Board


In November the Montgomery County Library Board had its annual meeting with the County Executive. The topics covered were wide-ranging, as usual, and, as usual, centered on improving library service countywide. Mr. Duncan told us that he believes we need new libraries in Germantown, Silver Spring, and Rockville.

The Library Board supports these projects for this CIP cycle, as well as the renovations due for the Long Branch and Bethesda Libraries.

Essentially that is what I have come here to say. I could leave now. But ....

I am a book person who comes from a line of book people. My family was early in the PC cycle too. We had a Commodore PET with 8k of RAM and a cassette tape drive. We are all information junkies. One of my brothers is a docent at the Main Branch of the Los Angeles Public Library. The idea of neighborhood libraries is imprinted on my soul.

In junior high school I discovered that I could detour to the local library on the way home without losing much time. I could pick up a stack of books every few days. I had them behind the bed, under the desk, under the bed, behind the desk, on top of the bed, on top of the desk, and scattered about on the closet floor. I spent most of my allowance on fines, and, instead of grounding me, my Mom would take my library card away.

If I had a magic wand I would wish every person in Montgomery County could develop a love for libraries, books, and knowledge that the almost effortless access to the local library gave me as a child. I can't do that, but this is the next best thing: to advocate for more libraries.

Germantown, Rockville, and Silver Spring are very different communities, but all are alike right now because they are all in flux. Their town "centers" are being redefined and rebuilt, and not only the town centers are changing.

Germantown has one third of the housing starts countywide. With the explosive growth of the last few years the branch at the County Services building is already woefully inadequate. There is no room to expand at the current site, so the next step is a larger building at a new site. A new Germantown Library building could anchor the new town center.

Rockville's town center is also in the process of redevelopment. The current Rockville Library branch is a midsized building that has neither adequate parking nor expandability. Libraries must have floors that can bear a much heavier load than other uses require. Even if the Library Department's administrative offices moved out, the cost of restructuring, essentially recreating the building, would be prohibitive. The site selection process is well underway with details to be ironed out between the County and the City of Rockville.

It makes sense to move forward on the Rockville Library Project as quickly as possible, while the State of Maryland is willing to share the cost of a parking garage that can service both a new library and a new courthouse.

This brings us to the Silver Spring Library, another older branch with a too-small building and parking lot problems. Several sites within the Silver Spring business district have been proposed as possible library sites in the recent past. As the redevelopment has progressed, many of those sites have been taken. Yet the Silver Spring Library does need a radical expansion to serve the disparate residents and businesses in that part of lower Montgomery County.

Besides the expanding business community, there is a plethora of infill housing being built in that area, with many young professionals and their families moving in to take advantage of its proximity to DC and environs. This is not your Grandmother's Silver Spring, with its genteel aging population. Many of the new arrivals are new to this country and new to the English language as well. Their service needs require a different kind of library, with more room for ESOL and conversation classes, perhaps with an expansion of the Job Center, the foreign language collection, and other Library outreach programs.

If the County is to encourage growth for small- and medium-sized businesses, then a Business Resource Center at Silver Spring would be a real asset to the community. A new library building could accommodate all of these amenities.

It is a shame that we have to come here, year after year, to beg for good or better library service, good or better schools, good or better roads, ..., that citizens have to justify these things in terms of the tax base, voter support, public demonstrations, letters to the editor, and testimony. That we have to talk about business plans and justify staffing rather than expecting a planned program of growth in the libraries, the schools, and the infrastructure that automatically accelerates as the County grows. When we come here we find ourselves pitted against each other for County services that we shouldn't have to justify at all.

    When others fail him, the wise man looks
       To the sure companionship of books.
           Andrew Lang

This speech was written by Paulette Dickerson and given by her at the Montgomery County Capital Improvement Program public hearing, Rockville, Maryland on 8 February 2000.



Paulette Dickerson P.O. Box 598 Kensington, MD. 20895-0598
pdickerson(at)hers.com
http://librariesfriend.com
Private Citizen / Library Advocate
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Send comments or suggestions to:
E-Mail: "pdickerson (at) hers.com"
Paper Mail: Paulette Dickerson, P.O.Box 598, Kensington, MD 20895-0598, USA

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