The End of Community at the Potomac Community Library

The End of Community at the Potomac Community Library

On June 24, 1991 15 concerned citizens of Potomac were elected to the first Board of Directors of the newly incorporated Friends of the Potomac Community  Library, Inc. whose purpose was to stimulate interest in, engender goodwill toward, and promote the use of the Public Libraries of Montgomery County in general and the Potomac Community Library in particular. Also in attendance was the Potomac Library Manager Barbara Harr who had lobbied for the formation of this Friends chapter. An independently incorporated nonprofit organization, the Potomac Friends were the first affiliated chapter of FOLMC ,  the Rockville Montgomery County Friends Organization which provided umbrella 501-3-c status and insurance.  By the end of Potomac's first year of operation we had 91 members.

That same year saw the sharpest cuts in Library funding in Montgomery County. Urgent notices were sent out from the Montgomery County Library Board and the Montgomery County (MD) Department of Public Libraries.   There were cuts in personnel back to the 1987 level when there were three fewer libraries, library hours were reduced, a 10% cut in the book budget, patron services and children’s programs also deeply cut. The Chevy Chase Library would stay closed for yet another year. Communities rallied. More chapters were formed.  

In Potomac volunteers came forward. Over the years, book sales were organized. Literary and musical events were held. Children’s programs were funded. Computers, books, magazine subscriptions, CDs, furniture and carpeting were purchased. Piano tuning was paid for. Funding was given to the Potomac Village Garden Club – all volunteers – who maintain the beautiful grounds at the Library. Staff appreciation was funded. A $30,000 donation was made to MCPL for collection development. $40,000 was allocated to providing a new staff kitchen which is delayed until after the coming refresh of the library. An offer to provide a matching grant to benefit other libraries in Montgomery County wasn't responded to.

MCPL has announced that in July of this year it will reorganize its structure.  For every three community libraries there will be one manager. Already long gone are the days of a manager like Barbara Harr who became totally involved in the community her library served. Active in the Potomac Community Theatre and the Potomac Chamber of Commerce, Barbara put the interests of Potomac first. In the last 10 years Potomac was lucky to have a manager for a full 2 years, sometimes only a shared one, as is the case right now. The 51 Potomac volunteers who were recognized for their service during Library Lovers Month this February will now have to apply to Rockville to be a volunteer in Potomac. I have been told that it is most unlikely that they will. There may be many more weeds in the library garden.

The reason given by FOLMC for closing the chapters is an insult to all the volunteers who have worked so hard for their libraries. In 2019 alone, 149 volunteers donated 4.538 hours of their time. Of the 15 chapters in existence on March 19, 2022 one had fallen behind on required filings with the IRS. The Secretary of that chapter resigned her post in November, 2021. She is the deputy director of FOLMC. Despite being privy to what was planned, neither she nor her husband, the Chapter’s President – who also resigned – alerted the chapter to the situation. One or two others had similar problems in the past, an understandable situation with all volunteer organizations with frequent board turnover.  Why didn’t the parent organization, FOLMC, step in with help?  Offer accounting services?  A portion of every chapter’s membership dues is given to FOLMC.  It would have been in their interest to keep those funds coming.  When a large retail company has underperforming stores it either revamps them or closes them. It does not shut down the whole company.

Potomac and the 14 other communities deserve to have their libraries reflect the needs of their citizens. Some need more children’s activities, others more daytime programs for retirees. Community based Friends groups help to provide what the county budget can’t. Rockville is not Chevy Chase, Silver Spring or Potomac.  

I urge you to send a letter decrying this decision to Pamela Saussy the President of the Board of Trustees of the Friends of the Library to or Montgomery County, 21 Maryland Ave., Suite310  Rockville, MD 20850

Karin Currie

Founder and Vice-President

Friends of the Potomac Community Library