An avid reader who considered the library a second home has left a $950,000 bequest to be shared by the Baltimore County Public Library and the Enoch Pratt Free Library. The city and county systems will share equally in the gift from Margaret S. "Peggy" Peterson, a retired county librarian and former Towson resident who died in 2006.

"The library meant so much to Peggy from her childhood to her death," said Lynn Wheeler, a close friend and director of the Carroll County Public Library System. "Even in retirement, she was a constant customer."

Peterson, who had worked in various county branches for 23 years, had originally left an annuity to her only son, who died in May, with the understanding that the libraries would ultimately benefit from the estate. Those who knew her are not surprised at Peterson's decision. She spent many of her girlhood hours at Pratt and joined the county system in 1963.

"Peggy considered her career as a librarian with Baltimore County a life-changing experience," Wheeler said. "She was a voracious reader and had an encyclopedic knowledge of music. Peggy's customers and colleagues loved her for her accessibility, intelligence, energy, and marvelous sense of humor. She was an inspiration and informal mentor to many staff members."

The Foundation for the Baltimore County Public Library, which funds numerous projects, including many that encourage lifelong reading in children and young adults, will use the gift to launch its first endowment fund, which puts the campaign nearly halfway toward its $1 million goal. The fund would be dedicated solely to promoting children's literacy.

"With this gift, we can get the endowment off with a bang," said Heidi Gillis, executive director of the foundation. "Literacy is changing with technology, and this, our first endowment, will give us flexibility with children's programs."

Pratt administrators said they have only just learned of the gift and have yet to plan its use, but they, too, will likely focus on young readers.

"It will be our responsibility to use this gift in a way that will most inspire others just as Ms. Peterson has inspired us," said Jamie Caplis, director of Pratt's institutional advancement department. "It is really touching that someone with a lifelong love of the library decided to establish this wonderful legacy that will help make sure children grow into adults who love the library."

Caplis added, "I bet she had no idea the impact of this gift would be so large, particularly in these times of budget cuts."

mary.gail.hare@baltsun.com

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