Anne Arundel Co. library hours would extend under plan

With its branches dark for more hours than most of those in neighboring counties, Anne Arundel County library officials want to extend the hours that all local libraries are open.

The pitch for longer hours at the 15 library locations is expected to come as part of the library system's budget request for the coming fiscal year, which begins next July. And although the county is only one-third of the way into the current budget year, government agencies have begun looking ahead.

"The hours is really our big push for this coming year," said Hampton "Skip" Auld, the library system's administrator.

Auld said the additional hours would put the Anne Arundel library system's hours closer to those in nearby jurisdictions, providing time for more library and job programs and alleviating the shortage of community meeting space.

It would allow people to get to more libraries at more times of day, add weekend hours and generally make better use of the buildings and their resources, he said.

He said the additional hours would cost about $1.5 million over the library system's current $19 million operating budget. Less than a quarter of the budget comes from the state, and the county covers the vast majority.

"We are talking about a modest increase to the budget," Auld said.

It is too early to say whether that's in the county's fiscal picture. Preparations for the budget begin in earnest in January, with the administration submitting its proposal in the spring, and the council adopting a plan soon after.

"It comes down to the dollars. Right now, times are challenging," said Derek Fink, the Pasadena Republican who serves as chairman of the Anne Arundel County Council. Still, he said he likes the idea in principle.

"I think the idea of the extended hours makes a lot of sense," Fink said.

County Executive John R. Leopold said he would be looking at the library and other agencies' proposals as budget time approaches.

Library hours vary among the 15 branches.

At present, 10 are open 44 hours a week, and Auld said the hours at those 10 should be boosted to 64, largely to add four weekday mornings.

"Two-thirds of our county is really unserved with preschool education for much of the week," Auld said.

The 10 branches with shorter hours — which are in every section of the county — are open only one weekday morning a week, and on Saturdays. Officials say mornings are the best time for getting the youngest library-goers into activities and ready to start school. Morning hours appeal to many retirees as well. In the afternoon and evenings, libraries are often crowded with students.

Two more branches have 64-hour weekly schedules, and Auld said he'd like to restore Sunday afternoons at those, bringing the Crofton and Severna Park branches to 68 hours a week.

The three largest libraries — in Annapolis, Glen Burnie and Odenton — are open Sunday afternoons, but only from the end of September to the start of May, which is most of the school year. Auld is proposing to extend the Sunday hours from the Sunday after Labor Day until just before Memorial Day weekend to cover more of the school year.

Auld said the county spends less than neighboring library systems, and it is falling behind some that have bookmobiles and other substantial outreach programs.

andrea.siegel@baltsun.com

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