Texas Hold ‘em books, starlet bios raise questions

This week, the county’s record-keepers will have to go on record, possibly to explain purchases of starlets’ biographies or books about Texas Hold ‘em.

A representative of Frederick County Public Libraries will come before the Board of County Commissioners Thursday to discuss the books, CDs and DVDs the system has acquired in the past few months. The county commissioners will also decide whether to free up funds for the next three months of library purchases.

Commissioner Billy Shreve, who has already started poring over the list of recent buys, believes some of the materials might not be worth taxpayer dollars.

“Why should my tax dollars pay for someone else’s recreation? Why should my tax dollars pay for someone to watch ‘Charlie’s Angels’ or ‘Battlestar Galactica’ or read about Lindsay Lohan?” Shreve said in a phone interview. “It’s funny looking through here, and it’s also sad, because it’s money we could be using for schools, money we could be using for our police and firefighters.”

Library officials and the public should start asking the same questions, Shreve said. In his view, the library’s mission should center on education rather than entertainment.

“Well, then, you’d take out all the fiction,” Commissioner David Gray said, responding to Shreve’s point. “If he’s really concerned about making it (the library) more beneficial to the people, he should ask the people.”

Gray said the libraries must carry a wide variety of materials to appeal to a broad range of people.

The conversation about improving library management is worthwhile, Gray said, but searching for answers in purchase lists isn’t the way to go. Suggestion box comments from patrons would offer better guidance, he said.

The Thursday commissioners meeting will include the first periodic check-in required of library officials under a new plan. In July, when the time came to review annual county agreements with book vendors, commissioners decided to try something new: Instead of simply approving the contracts and calling it a day, they would split into installments the funding for new library materials.

More than $1 million for the year’s purchases already exists in the fiscal 2013 budget, but commissioners are releasing the funds in quarterly amounts.

The plan also calls for library officials to turn over a list of their purchases to commissioners at the end of each three-month period.

The new system developed out of a conversation started by Shreve, who has shown a keen interest in library management and concern that certain aspects of it are outmoded in an electronic world.

Darrell Batson, the county’s library director, said he will talk Thursday about this quarter’s spending on almost 4,200 titles, some of which were bought in more than one copy.

From July through September, the libraries spent $250,764 on purchases of materials, coming in almost $1,300 under the quarter’s budget.

The leftover money will roll over to the next quarter, the county manager said.

County officials also have asked Batson to describe the way the library buys and disposes of materials.

Critics have objected that the commissioners’ scrutiny of detailed purchase lists could lead to censorship of certain library materials. However, Shreve says he is just trying to start a conversation, not control what goes on bookshelves.

Though commissioners approve library funding, they do not regulate specific purchases. In addition, the library’s board of trustees — not the county commissioners — are in charge of appointing the system’s director, now Batson.

Commissioners President Blaine Young said Batson’s presentation will educate the board about how the library buys and cycles through books.

He does not anticipate having qualms about releasing the $320,000 in purchase funding that will take the libraries through the end of the year, he said.

“For me, this is not about critiquing the library in any shape or form. It’s just about understanding how they operate.”

Shreve said he doesn’t think he’ll have a problem with voting to release the next quarter of library purchase funds, but added that he still needs to hear more from Batson and fellow commissioners before his decision solidifies.

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