Despite concern from a Maryland library group, county officials don’t think a change in how county library funds are distributed could open the door to political control of purchases.
Under the new spending plan, presented by county Library Director Darrell Batson and approved by the Frederick County Board of Commissioners at a July 26 meeting, the funds for the county’s library system will be released in quarterly installments.
Commissioners also will receive reports on what purchases the library system makes before they release the next quarter’s funds.
Previously, the county’s libraries received funding annually.
The change comes after Commissioner Billy Shreve (R) expressed reservations at a July 12 meeting about giving more than $1 million to the library without a better understanding of where and how the money is spent.
Following Shreve’s concerns, library officials evaluated what was spent each quarter, Batson said.
The library would get $252,031 in the first quarter of the county’s fiscal 2013 budget, which began July 1, $320,000 in the second quarter, $251,886 in the third and $274,361 in the fourth, Batson said.
Each quarter, the library will provide the commissioners with a list of what was purchased in the previous quarter, he said.
He said although the county contributes about 75 percent of the library’s total funding, state law gives the library’s board of trustees oversight over what materials are purchased.
Batson said he told the library’s seven-member board of trustees about the plan, and no one raised any objections.
He said the new arrangement is an acceptable way for the library and the commissioners to work together to provide library services to county residents.
“This is what they feel they need to do to have accountability, and that is fine,” Batson said.
But if the library has to submit a report of what was purchased in the previous quarter before they get the next chunk of money, it raises concerns over possible censorship, said Gordon Krabbe, director of administrative services for the State Library Resource Center and the Enoch Pratt Free Library.
“I would think that most libraries would not like to do that,” Krabbe said.
Mary Somers, intellectual freedom officer with the Maryland Library Association, declined to comment, saying the organization dealt more with statewide library issues than individual counties.
Shreve said the commissioners wouldn’t be approving each individual item.
He said the only way he could envision voting to deny funding is if the quarterly reports suggested blatant negligence in the purchasing process.
Batson said that throughout the process, Shreve has never said anything about approval of what’s purchased, just questions over how county money is spent.
In a recent interview with The Gazette, Shreve wondered at some of the titles in a report of last year’s library purchases, including books on how to buy an antique lamp and how to train a guinea pig.
He said he wasn’t judging the purchases, but said commissioners sometimes get asked how the library makes its purchases.
In today’s world, people would be more likely to go online to get that type of information than the library, he said.
According to numbers compiled by the library at Shreve’s request, the library system bought more than 54,600 books, nearly 1,100 CDs, 3,300 audiobooks and 4,300 DVDs in fiscal 2013.
Shreve said his main concern was to get a better understanding of the process the library goes through to spend its money.
“I think I would just like to know what the process is,” Shreve said.
Staff writer Katherine Heerbrandt contributed to this report.