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Talk Of Staff Moves Too Quiet, Even For Librarians

P. Kenneth Burns/WYPR

July 1 is an important date in Baltimore County.  It will mark the start of the fiscal 2015 budget, and the possible transfer of 28 information technology positions from the county library System to the county government.

The transfers are part of a cost savings move as technological services from individual county agencies are consolidated into one single department.

Before seven years ago, if a police station and a fire department developed computer problems, each would summon its own IT specialist—even if they were located directly across the street.

But then, Rob Stradling, chief information officer for the County, said officials realized that they could send one person instead of two.

“We saw a tremendous savings in both hours and resources by [consolidating IT departments],” he said.

Techs from 23 county agencies have since consolidated into one department.  The library system is the 24th and final consolidation.  The IT departments for the school system and the Community College of Baltimore County will not be consolidated.

Stradling says absorbing the library department’s IT techs into county government will save the county about $400,000.  The savings will then be “[put] back in new technologies for the library.”  New technologies like iPads and faster computers for customers.

County library officials were surprised by the move.  Jim DeArmey, information services coordinator for the county libraries, says their IT jobs are not the same as those found in other places.

“[They’re] involved in the lending and retrieving of books for customers.  In handling customer accounts and in finding answers to customer questions,” DeArmey says.

County Council members expressed concerns about the move in their budget message in May.  They suggested holding off until incoming Library Director Paula Miller review the changes when she begins in August.

There is also concern among library administrators in the state.

"The concern in the library community is let’s have a discussion first about really the practicality in what really is best for the tax payer and for the citizens that we serve,” says Darrell Batson, president of the Maryland Association of Public Library Administrators.

Batson, who is also library director in Frederick County, says with only 24 independent library systems in Maryland, a decision for one could have a ripple effect on the others.

“It’s just a note of concern on our part on how this transition is going forward; the discussion they’re in and the long term ramifications,” he adds.

Stradling, citing a tight timetable, says the transfers had to be part of the county budget proposal.  In hindsight, however, he admits that he should have communicated more with library officials about plans to move IT positions.  He has since been explaining the moves to the system.

The transfers will be phased in and Stradling promises there will be no disruption to library services.

Although the County Council has authorized the transfer of 28 positions, the actual number will be decided before the new fiscal year begins.  The remaining employees will stay with the library system.