Friendly Libraries

a speech by Paulette Dickerson

Chair, Montgomery County Library Board

Hello, I'm Paulette Dickerson, and I'd like to speak on behalf of the Montgomery County Department of Public Libraries. It is a system that over 80% of Montgomery County citizens use regularly and has facilities that range from the tiny Noyes Children's Library to Wheaton Regional Library, from "urban" branches like Rockville and Silver Spring to storefronts like Poolesville. The system serves the affluent and the indigent, the young and the old, the wise and the foolish, immigrants and natives evenhandedly. Libraries provide a basis for recreation, research and self-fulfillment that few institutions besides schools can match.

Here in Montgomery County we have a library system we can all be proud of. In spite of several years of cutbacks, it is a healthy, growing system, too. I have come here tonight to urge you to help the Montgomery County Department of Public Libraries grow even better. The County Executive's proposed budget includes several items that will facilitate this growth into the future.

The budget includes a "one-time" increase for materials. This will assure that the replacement and acquisition of materials for the collection continues smoothly. New books cost more than old ones did; so do new magazines and other materials. We shouldn't let inflation reduce the availability or the well-roundedness of the Montgomery County Department of Public Libraries collection.

Mr. Duncan's budget proposal also allows for a restoration of hours at the 10 community libraries where service hours had been cut. According to a recent article in American Libraries, the times when bookstores, especially mega stores are most crowded are evenings and weekends, when public libraries are closed. Maybe this tells us something about people's desire to browse, read, and mingle with other book-lovers.

The third budget item that I would like to bring up is the "Next Generation" computer network. The current library automation, as it is called, came on line almost ten years ago. It was expensive, innovative and radically different from the card catalog and microfiche that preceded it. It has served the county well. The system uses a straight text format that was the only available technology in its time. The terminals are hardwired to communicate this way and cannot be modified to work any other way. The type of machinery being used to implement the county's catalog is not even manufactured any longer, and the Montgomery County Department of Public Libraries has kept theirs going by cannibalizing some units to fix others. At this point the contract with the current service provider has not much more than a year to go and even CARL, that provider, will not be supporting a system like ours anywhere any longer. Nor will anyone else.

If we thought of our current system as a car, we bought the latest model, drove it across the country twice a year, had the oil changed regularly and after a decade and 300,000 miles can't find a mechanic, parts or the leaded gas it needs to keep running. It's time for a new system and we're suffering from sticker shock. Still, we got our money's worth from "Old Nellie" and we need to move on.

As proposed, the "Next Generation" system would facilitate intra-Departmental business, provide patrons with graphical access, allow for self check-outs, user-placed "holds" on items, friendlier Patron Inquiry (that's when you've gotten a notice of an overdue book but haven't the foggiest idea where or what it was), access to the Internet with easier Web searches and even a more "transparent" or user friendly catalog search engine. You won't have to keep returning to the same help screen to get more info on books, author or subject areas, either.

It will be great, and the $3.7 million budget item buys it all --- software, hardware and PC-based terminals for all the branches. Let's do it!

I'd like to leave you with a quote from Groucho Marx: "Outside of a dog, a book is Man's best friend; inside a dog, it's too dark to read."

Thank you.

This speech was written by Paulette Dickerson and given by her at the Montgomery County Council Budget Hearings in Rockville, Maryland on 2 April 1998.

Paulette Dickerson P.O. Box 598 Kensington, MD. 20895-0598
Private Citizen / Library Advocate

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Send comments or suggestions to:
E-Mail: "pdickerson (at)"
Paper Mail: Paulette Dickerson, P.O.Box 598, Kensington, MD 20895-0598, USA

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