Why We Love Our Libraries
"The library is poppin’,” Bay Weekly calendar editor Ashley Brotherton tells me late Monday.
Her report means I have a couple of hours of editing ahead of me on a hefty 8 Days a Week calendar muscled up by Anne Arundel and Calvert libraries.
At the 20 libraries in the two counties this week are programs for babies, toddlers, kids, teens, parents, computer novices, e-device users, gamers, job-hunters, locavores, knitters, memoirists, movie-lovers, poets, readers, seniors, students, taxpayers — and more.
Libraries are a boon to our lives, but what makes a good library?
Who knows better than Pat Hofmann, an idea-machine who has answered that question for three decades with Calvert County Public Library. Hofmann, who retires this summer at 61, took the system from small-town book lenders to modern information centers at the heart of community life.
Here, in her own words and for Library Week 2013, Hofmann tells us how libraries win our love.
A Good Library Is a Community Center
In a library, everybody is welcome, everything is free, it’s easy and there are no barriers.
At every branch, you can sit down, have a cup of coffee and meet people. I love it that after storytimes, moms and kids bring lunch and visit with one another. We’re also a place where groups start, like the Calvert locavores, who meet here monthly and have quarterly potluck dinners.
A library builds a community. We are constantly inviting people to come in for interesting or fun events.
We routinely partner with people and groups in the community. If we want to do a special event related to black history, we talk to Concerned Black Women. For women’s history month, we talk to the Calvert League of Women Voters and Commission for Women. We like to showcase different people, their achievements and activities.
Flexible and Expandable
A good library helps people in the community. When we see a need, we grow into it. When the economy turns down, as it has now, a lot of new projects happen.
Helping people find jobs and improve their skills has become very important. A couple of years ago, when big companies like Giant and Walmart put their applications online, we realized we had to teach people how to use equipment they’d never used before to apply for jobs and get email addresses for replies to their applications.
We want children to feel extra special in the library. We promote early literacy and school readiness in many ways, perhaps most noticeably storytime. Our librarians hold 26 storytime classes per week. We go to schools, visiting every first, fourth, sixth and eighth grade.
We also do book discussions in the schools with the fifth grade classes. Kids give up their recess to join. They talk about the book, do a craft and have lunch together. The librarian brings dessert.
We’re a cooperating collection of the Foundation Center in New York City. We have their databases, and we offer workshops at least twice a year to help nonprofits learn how to write a grant proposal and find funders.
We partner with the Small Business Resource Center to provide resources, materials and answers to questions for new entrepreneurs. Many use our space as an office while they are starting up, taking advantage of our computers, printers, copiers, wifi, meeting space and even our staplers.
Most important, our staff point these new business people to the answers for the many questions that arise when starting a new business such as how to write business proposals, how to incorporate, how to market their product and more.
Close to Home
You don’t want people to have to drive too many miles to get to the library. In Calvert, it’s less than 10 miles from anywhere to a library.
When I came to work at Calvert County Library as the reference supervisor 27 years ago, we had three small libraries — Prince Frederick, Twin Beaches and Fairview branches — plus a bookmobile.
They’ve all expanded, and all but Fairview has moved.
In 2006, we built a new central library in Prince Frederick. At 28,000 airy square feet, it doubled our space. There is plenty of room for information in all forms, 27 well-used computers, teaching and get-togethers, even a café.
Southern branch, the newest at 20 years old, is moving from the 3,250 square feet in Southern Community Center in Lusby to triple that space in the redesigned Woodburn’s grocery in Solomons.
Open Many Hours
People always tell us they want more hours. Irregular hours confuse people, and we don’t want that.
When I came to Calvert, the branches were open two days and two evenings. Over the years, we’ve increased hours and now keep all four libraries open 61 hours a week.
Customers would be happy with 24/7, including Friday and Saturday nights and especially Sunday. Maybe in the next five years, Sunday hours will come.
Well-Stocked with Computers
When I came, we had one computer in the basement and none for customers. The Friends of Calvert Library funded our first computer for library visitors, which included an online encyclopedia. As time went on, we moved from the card catalog to the online catalog. Some of us remember the time spent barcoding each and every book in the collection.
Now computers and the Internet are our most demanded services. We’ve added wifi, and that use goes up all the time. People can come here to use a computer or learn to use one.
Librarians have become tech trainers. In addition to computer training, we train customers how to use their e-Readers. We show them how to download free digital books. Calvert even circulates e-Readers, loaded with content based on theme. For example, if you love mysteries, you can check out an e-Reader loaded with over 50 great mystery titles.
From the start of the library to today, we have circulated many different formats: physical books, books on tape, books on CD and now digital books. We do our best to provide what our visitors want and will continue to respond to trends.