Libraries Are Chesapeake Country’s Town Squares

“People want and use their libraries in pretty tremendous ways,” Anne Arundel County library administrator Skip Auld told me when we met.
    His words rang true to my experience. When I moved to the Calvert-Anne Arundel border 26 years ago this month, I promptly got cards for both libraries. (Now any county’s library card works in every other county throughout Maryland.)
    For me, libraries were the substitute for town squares. In Deale, I’d always stop to admire children’s art as I checked out talking books. In Calvert, I’d go to talks, workshops, book sales. Once Bay Weekly — then New Bay Times — was born, librarians answered almost weekly reference questions before the arrival of the World Wide Web put the wide world of information at our fingertips.
    www is with us now, and I could and no doubt someday will use my library card to download my talking books electronically. Except that I love to go to the library. On Saturday, husband Bill Lambrecht and I stopped by the Edgewater Library to change books. Grandkids Jack and Elsa Knoll were with us, and in the minutes before the lights went out, Elsa found and checked out two gorgeously illustrated Pinkerton books, while a librarian helped Jack find three books on tornadoes.
    Tonight on the way home, I’ll make another stop at the library, probably the Annapolis branch, to change print novels. And if I don’t like the one I check out, its rejection will be free — rather than adding another disappointing $12-plus book to my donation shelf.
    Auld’s words rang so true that they became the starting point for this week’s feature story. Meant to introduce Auld, the story shifted to exploring the ways people use their public libraries — and, conversely, the values we all lose when libraries lose funding.
    I couldn’t imagine a better way to make that point than to describe a week in the life of Anne Arundel County libraries and the people who use them. All of the stories you’ll read are true, and the people described are real. Diana Beechener and Aries Matheos helped me in my research.
    About the time this story was forming, Calvert Library, specifically its Prince Frederick main library, was chosen by Bay Weekly readers as the Best Library on the Bay. (Read on down to Correspondence for spokeswoman Robyn Truslow’s explanation of how Calvert works to earn such honors.)
    Calvert Library, I learned as I researched this story, is suffering fewer losses in these lean times than are Anne Arundel libraries.
    With three years of cuts and more to come, “You may wait longer for a book you have on hold, as we’re buying fewer copies,” says Calvert library director Pat Hofmann. “At the same time, we’ve not furloughed staff nor have we had to cut library hours.”
    On the other hand, Hofmann says, “We’re looking at our partners for more help than in the past. We’re relying a little more than we used to on our Friends and Foundation.”
    Increasing the role of friends as supporters and spokespeople is one of the ways Anne Arundel Library is adapting to hard times. Community meetings to Save Our Services are scheduled over the next four Thursdays. You’ll find the listing in this week’s lead story, and each Thursday’s meeting appears in 8 Days a Week. If you use Anne Arundel County libraries, go and get involved.