Sam Freedenberg
Remarks to Montgomery County Council
On Behalf of the Aspen Hill Community Library
April 12, 1993

Good evening. My name is Sam Freedenberg and I live on Eades Street, in Rockville. I have come here this evening to speak on behalf of the Aspen Hill Community Library, my neighborhood library. I have been a resident of Montgomery County for 14 years and have lived in this neighborhood for nearly 5 years.

Until January 1 of this year I was relatively uninvolved in community affairs. But on the first morning of this year I read something that upset me and my family very much — an article in the Rockville Gazette that reported that the County Council was considering a plan to cut back service at the Aspen Hill Library to just 3 days a week.

The first thing I did this year was to sit down and write a letter to the County Council objecting to this plan. I subsequently became involved in the Aspen Hill Library Advisory Committee. Within a few days of sending my letter I had received responses from many individuals who would be involved in the budget decision making process, including some of you here tonight. All assured me that the 3-days-a-week proposal was more of an idea than a plan, and that other options would be considered before such a drastic measure would be taken.

The FY94 budget proposed by the County Executive contains no further cuts in the hours of operation of the Aspen Hill Library. Further cuts in library hours would be intolerable. We have already in the past few years seen our hours cut by one-third, from 60 to 48 to 40 hours per week. The library is now closed on Fridays, and it is open only 2 evenings per week.

What concerns our community deeply, however, is that the FY94 budget proposes a reduction of more than 25% in our library's staff, from 9.5 to 7 work years. These cuts in staff, while the community and its use of the library continues to grow, will lead inevitably to its conversion to a browsing "self-service" library, where citizens — including school children, immigrants, and seniors — will be expected to use the library without professional assistance. In the end, these cuts may hurt even more than cuts in hours.

All who use the library — the vast majority of the population — will surely notice the reduced service levels. It is quite possible that many will give up using the library because of waits and lack of service. Already lines at information desks are common, children's programs have been virtually eliminated, and the circulation desk is overwhelmed.

We recognize that the Aspen Hill Library is not facing cuts alone — in this county, this metropolitan area, or nationwide. I have been corresponding by electronic mail with concerned library users around the country — in Lodi, California; Birmingham, Alabama; and New Haven, Connecticut. All report cutbacks in their library service during the last few years as municipal budgets have been pinched.

But is this what we want for Montgomery County, one of the wealthiest and best-educated counties in the country?

Michael Dirda, an editor of the Washington Post Book World, put it best, perhaps, when he wrote recently, "I can think of only one institution that everyone, except apparently our elected representatives, still values as entirely beneficent: public libraries. Naturally the libraries (along with their cousins, the schools) suffer most when public officials decide to trim budgets. . . I find all this incomprehensible. Shameful, actually. In my childhood the library was a town's chief pride and showplace, as well as a powerful engine of culture, self-improvement and scholarship."

Please, let us pull back from this slippery slope, stop the cutbacks, and start working together to restore our library services to levels that can meet the needs of our community. The Aspen Hill Community Library, like every library in this county, is an irreplaceable necessity, not a luxury, and the services it provides to our citizens of all ages are even more crucial when times are tough. Further cutbacks will be a great blow to our community and particularly to our young people, who will get the message that the county cares less and less about their well-being.

I want to conclude my remarks with a brief parable that some of you may be familiar with. A farmer once decided that he could save money by gradually reducing, day-by-day, the amount of feed he gave to his horse. In this way, he thought, the creature would get accustomed to eating less. A friend, who knew the farmer's diet program for the horse, ran into him a few weeks after he began it and found him in a sorrowful state. "What's wrong, why the tears?" asked the friend. "It's that darn horse," replied the farmer. "Just when I had him trained to eat absolutely nothing, he had to go and die on me."

Let's not be like that miserly farmer. Let's not slowly starve our library system, for to do so would impoverish our county immeasurably. That would be the unkindest cut of all. Thank you very much.

Like A Fine Gem
Three Days a Week

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