The Baltimore County Library was ranked ninth in the nation for its population category in the most recent Hennen's Public Library Ratings, and fourth in the state, behind Carroll, Harford and Howard counties.

Hennen's rates libraries based on 15 criteria, including funding level, staff size, number of periodicals, visits and circulation.

While not a direct response to changing technology or demographics, Storyville is certainly a response to the latest research on what best helps young children learn and read, and a perceived community need for that service.

The Storyvilles are stocked with the latest and best children's books and plenty of places where adults and children can sit down together to read, as well as state-of-the-art play areas. Each includes play stores, houses and other rooms, and each of those areas has age-appropriate and theme-appropriate toys.

Some 360,000 adults and children visited the Rosedale Storyville during its first five years, library officials said, and about 6,000 a month visit the Woodlawn Storyville.

"This has become the go-to place for early childhood needs," said Marisa Conner, the system's Youth Services Coordinator and a leading force behind Storyville. "We really filled a niche."

Librarians and teachers from as far away as Denmark and Canada have come to look at the county's Storyvilles, with an eye to replicating them.

The parents and children who show up often come from far away as well. On a recent weekday, Elkanah Werther, wife Devorah, and their sons Yosef, 3, and Isaac, 1, traveled to the Rosedale Storyville from their home in Lakewood, N.J., after hearing about it from a cousin who lives in the county.

They spent a lot of time in Toddler Bay, a Bay-themed room stocked with a mini-lighthouse, tidal pool boxes and plastic crabs. 

"There's nothing like this in New Jersey," Elkanah said, "at least not near us. We love it, and the main thing is, the kids love it."

"It's hard to find things educational and fun, and this has that," Devorah said. "It's just fun and family-oriented. .. And in a library."