Libraries! 24/7!

Testimony to the County Council
Montgomery County Operating Budget

by Paulette Dickerson

Chair, Montgomery County Library Board

Public Hearing 3 April 2000

I'm here on behalf of the Library Board to support the MCDPL budget submitted for FY00-01 ... but I'm also here to ask you to increase that budget by about $600,000 to expand the Sunday hours of service.

For some time I've been asking people who use the Library System a lot whether they used it a lot as children. I've talked with a couple hundred people over the last three years, from 30 to 90 years old. Only three or four of them didn't use the library much when they were kids. Even though it hasn't been scientific (except in the sense of "knowledge seeking") the range of responses to my informal poll is interesting most adult users were child users. When they didn't go to the library much, they had a lot of books at home. Then I asked how those people got to the library, as kids. All but a handful said they walked, biked, or took the bus, mostly after school and in the summer. Those kids went to the library whenever they wanted to. The others went with their moms (some by bus, some by car), mostly on weekends.

The next question I asked was, "How do your kids/grandkids get to the Library?" That answer was also interesting because almost everyone said, "We drive them there or their moms/dads take them." What that says to me is that the small neighborhood library model inefficient in terms of staffing and inadequate in terms of collection space may be the most efficient at building lifetime library users, "information junkies." With double income families, afterschool jobs and soccer, breadth of access may be more important now than hardware or breadth of materials.

We can't change the fact that we are all living a more pressured existence, that our lives are more rigidly structured and scheduled ... but a clue to the fall off in library use among primary school children (that continues through high school and into college) may be that the business model that we've used for our public institutions, like schools and libraries looking for efficiency in fewer centralized locations that minimize staffing needs, in combining adult and children's information services at one place in many of the libraries, in trying to find metrics that look good in charts and tables (like circulation and parking lot use, visitor counts, etc.) has missed what libraries are for, the purpose of the institution.

If our goal is life long learning then perhaps we need to go back to the past for a better model. When the Library Board was asked to rate over-the-MARC proposals for library services, to prioritize what we thought should be included this year, we voted unanimously to support expansions of Sunday services to extend the service to two more libraries (Davis and White Oak); to push for 12 month Sundays, so that summer weekends would also be available; to have telephone reference seven days a week. This is something that would provide better access to most county residents, to those double income families I spoke of earlier, to the soccer moms who could schlepp the kids to Saturday or Sunday practices and games and still hit the library on the way home. To those whose Sabbath is Saturday, the Sunday service would give a weekend day to visit the library. For bookaholics it's another day to get a literary fix.

Through the "Structures" process the Department is looking at each community's needs and is responding to those needs with a custom-designed service packet for each branch. One of the assumptions here is that service will be restructured to match community needs, but the other assumption is that those needs will not require a major investment in training the current staff or a significant increase of new hires. That rules out more evening hours, Sunday hours, or ????

Now I'm going to quote a slogan of a well-known software company: "Where do you want to go today?" Today we may want to go to a new shopping mall, to a sports complex, to an entertainment center, or to a state-of-the-art conference facility, on better roads with less traffic and a shorter commute. But since we aren't clairvoyant we won't be able to see clearly all of the infrastructure we might need to move into the twenty first century. As soon as we constructed the Beltway it changed from a bypass to a thoroughfare and then to a parking lot at rush hour. As soon as we had CD-ROMs, bandwidth on the Internet became wide enough and deep enough to make them redundant. As soon as we hard-wired all of our buildings for T-1 lines along came ISDN, DSL, fiber optics, and now satellite-based Internet service is on the horizon. We don't know what's next.

A better question might be, "Where do we want to go tomorrow?" And one thing we can be sure of is that wherever we go we will need engaged, aware, and well-informed citizens. The places to best raise those people, those ideal citizens, are the public schools (since that is where most children go) and the public libraries.

Through all these changes I have mentioned, library service has been a constant, from penmanship to MS-DOS, from horse-and-buggy to Bugaloo Shrimp, from break-dancing to web surfing. When people want to get information, ask questions, find reliable answers, the library has been the entity of choice the crystal ball for all of us non-clairvoyants, visionary for the nearsighted and the farsighted alike. The MCDPL has evolved along with all of these changes, incorporating the best of the old books, buildings, and in-house services with the best of the new dozens of online databases, public terminals, and a gateway to the world wide web.

Let's support it this year by adding to that flexibility with more staff, longer hours, and more access. You all know what I believe in Libraries! 24/7! Let's do it!

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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