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A Valentine to Libraries

By Meg Walburn Viviano, CBM Editorial Director

The public library has always held a special place in my heart. It’s a treasure trove of content—all for free. For those who love to read, the library holds the same thrill that a flea market does for collectors. You just never know what you’ll find jammed in the racks (or shelves). You can pick out a book on a whim, based solely on an intriguing cover, or because you’ve read other titles by the same author. 

My mother, a serial devourer of books, began bringing me to our local Anne Arundel County library branch when I was about 3. I remember the canvas tote bag she kept by the front door, full of the week’s haul. She tore through many a detective series, dove headlong into heavy historical volumes, and got on the waitlist for just-released bestsellers she’d heard about on NPR. In the days of library pockets with stamped dates inside the book cover, she never let a book’s due date lapse without returning or renewing.  

I vividly remember the smell inside the library, of ink and paper. When I was old enough to browse the childrens and young adults sections by myself, I headed straight for the wall of Nancy Drew mysteries. There was a seemingly endless supply of Nancy’s adventures, a wall of numbered yellow spines stretching from 1930 to the present. 

Later, as a liberal arts English major, I naturally spent a good deal of time in the college campus library. The large number of obscure texts I had access to got me through classes like Shakespeare II and The Afterlife in Literature and Culture.  

Then, moving to downtown Baltimore as a twenty-something, I rediscovered the public library. By showing two pieces of mail that proved I was a city resident, I got a library card with unlimited books and movies to borrow. Why hadn’t more of my friends caught onto this clever secret, I wondered? 

Once I had my first child, I wasted no time introducing him to the library. At 13 months old, he sat at the tiny wooden table and chairs, flipping through board books with great interest. We began our own tradition of weekly book borrowing, finding treasures in the stacks. There was the one about the haunted monster truck rally, Brontorina (a brontosaurus who wishes to become a ballerina), and any number of classics by Dr. Seuss, Eric Carle, and Margaret Wise Brown (of Goodnight Moon fame). We credit my mom’s influence for her grandson’s love of books. 

The library has meant different things to any number of people over time. This issue of CBM Bay Weekly takes a look at Anne Arundel County’s public library system, from its humble beginning to its widely expanded locations and offerings. The pandemic era has accelerated the library’s high-tech services, opening the door to more electronic and virtual resources than ever. 

We hope you’ll have fun remembering your own library experiences as we travel back 100 years to relive the evolution of this institution. And maybe you’ll consider this brilliant, free resource before hitting “buy now” on your next Amazon book.