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Washington County Free Library hopes to implement more technology into services

It is awaiting finalization of state grant funding for those projects

March 29, 2012|By HEATHER KEELS | heather.keels@herald-mail.com
  • Renovation work continues on The Washington County Free Library in downtown Hagerstown.
By Joe Crocetta, Staff Photographer

The Washington County Free Library hopes to soon offer patrons the ability to borrow e-reader devices, to self-check-out entire stacks of books instantly through radio frequency tags, and to search the library catalog via touch-screens, library officials announced this week.

The library is awaiting finalization of state grant funding for those projects and hopes to roll some of them out later this year, said Carrie Willson-Plymire, the library’s technical services supervisor.

Willson-Plymire described the projects Tuesday during an annual lunch meeting between county and library officials that Library Director Mary C. Baykan described as a “state of the library address.”

With the main library closed for renovation, officials held the meeting at the former Phoenix Color building on Tandy Drive, where much of the downtown library’s collection is being stored.

Technology was a major theme this year as the library implements a new strategic plan driven by user feedback from recent online and walk-in surveys.

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Those surveys revealed a desire for more public computers, more time and faster Internet access on those computers, more downloadable e-books, and a library website that is easier to navigate, Baykan said.

Statistics back up patrons’ growing interest in borrowing e-books for devices such as Kindle and Nook.

Monthly e-book downloads have more than doubled from 800 in March 2011 to more than 1,600 so far this month, Baykan said.

Some of the technology demands from the survey have already been addressed. In January, the library introduced a new website, and on May 24, it will switch to a new library technology platform with an easier-to-use catalog and options for patrons to get notifications via text message, email or phone calls, Willson-Plymire said.

“And, as they say, ‘There’s an app for that,’ so we’re also looking forward to rolling out a mobile app which you can use on your smartphone or tablet that will give you access to all the library’s catalog and program information,” she said.

Through another grant, when the new Alice Virginia & David Fletcher Branch opens downtown, it will have 40 public computers, compared with 12 before it closed for renovation, Willson Plymire said. That’s not counting additional computers in the children’s section or the touch-screen catalog terminals that will be mounted on the ends of stacks, she said.

Those touch-screen terminals will only be in the downtown branch, she said.

Meanwhile, while grants are fueling new technology projects, the county’s proposed budget leaves the library short on the funds it will need for staff and utilities for the expanded downtown library, Baykan said.

The new library will be twice the size of the old one, with departments on two floors instead of one. To cover the additional space, the library requested funds for two additional adult service librarians, a librarian to staff a new Teen/Student Study Center, and additional staff for circulation, the Western Maryland Room and programming.

Those requests are denied in the county’s draft budget.

“The funding as it is specified now, basically it will cover the utilities, and it will cover the restoration of the maintenance worker position that was cut last year, but to try to open a two-story library and ... cover those departments, is going to be problematic,” Baykan said.

For security reasons, the Teen/Student Center will not open until the library has funds to staff it, she said.

The county budget draft also rejects a request for $15,000 to upgrade and replace existing computers and requests for increased money for books and materials.

“The county supports the library system, and they certainly do a great job and we try to support them, but that core support is for that core library, versus ancillary programs that are certainly great to have, but they’re not the core function of the library,” County Administrator Gregory B. Murray said later Tuesday during a meeting of the Washington County Board of Commissioners.

Commissioner Ruth Anne Callaham said she recommended the library look for ways to increase its own revenue through ideas such as charging a rental fee for use of its meeting rooms.

“We need to challenge everyone to look at their business model, their cost centers, and either cut or increase revenues as much as they can,” she said.

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