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A stack of problems

Mary Brown knows all about the woes of St. Petersburg's libraries. The poor budget, the inadequate service, the lack of up-to-date books. All have hit the new director's ears at one time or another.

But Brown remains optimistic. "These are exciting times for libraries here in St. Petersburg," she said.

Brown, former deputy director of library services for Sarasota County, took the helm of the city's libraries Monday. She is the first permanent director of the main library and five branches in nearly 17 months.

"I'm not going to dwell too much on the past. Everyone knows where the library has been," she said. "We're going to concentrate on where it's headed."

The past certainly has been etched into the minds of library employees, several City Council members, library users and city residents.

The system has been riddled with problems, and the community is seething over the troubled libraries.

Only 7 percent of the libraries' budget is used to buy books. The national average is 16 percent. And when new books are bought, it takes about six weeks before they move from boxes to shelves.

None of the city's libraries is open Sunday. While other libraries around the country have opted for automated checkout systems, St. Petersburg's libraries have yet to do so.

"Dollars for automation have been allocated in this year's budget," Brown says. The budget for fiscal year 1992 is $2.74-million..

"I can see that we're low," said Brown, referring to the budget. "We'll have to work with city management to come up with dollars as best we can."

Vice Mayor Connie Kone said help will come from city government. "I think that this council is very committed to having a strong library system. We will do all that we can to help her," Kone said.

"From all the reports I've seen, she (Brown) appears to be extremely well-qualified. I look forward to having a top-flight library in our system again."

Brown said she plans to look into possible fund-raisers and private donations to raise money for the libraries.

While Brown says she wants to provide cures for all of these ills, she acknowledges that it will take more than desire to "create a program that's going to meet everyone's goals."

The main ingredient for any cure, she said, is community support.

"It's the most important factor in providing a successful library. I see no problem with community enthusiasm for the libraries here."

It's also one of the main reasons Brown took the job.

"This community is anxiously awaiting change," said Brown, who lives in Manatee County. "Knowing that I could be a part of that was enticing."

Brown can expect much community support.

"We intend to call on her as soon as she gets squared away," said Marion Davis president of the League of Women Voters for the St. Petersburg area. "If she wants to set up some sort of advisory board, we might be able to assist her in that way also.

"We are really delighted. We expect that the library will now function properly."

Brown said she will need the community in order to provide St. Petersburg with a library it expects.

"It won't just be Mary Brown sitting behind her desk making decisions," she said. "We want the community and staff to be involved."