Havre de Grace Library

A pirate ship is one of the concepts for the children's area of the new Havre de Grace Library as shown by the project architect during a community meeting Wednesday night. (Courtesy of Manns Woodward Studios, The Record / September 4, 2013)

What does a public library mean to a town? How should it look? And what should it include?

On Wednesday evening, close to 30 people came to the Havre de Grace Activity Center to offer their ideas and input on those questions for a new Havre de Grace branch of the Harford County Public Library is to be built by the fall of 2014, replacing the existing building which was built in 1987.

County Library Director Mary Hastler began the meeting by introducing Manns Woodwood Studios, the architecture firm designing the new library, which will be on the same site at Union and Pennington avenues.

Partner Robert Manns, principal architect David Woodward and project manager Eric Bond said that the audience would be free to interrupt them and ask any question or provide any suggestions they would have.

Before they provided their sketches and ideas about the building, Manns said, they wanted to hear the opinion of the audience.

"Right now, we are at the very beginning of this project, and you guys get the very first chance of any kind of input into this project," Woodward explained. "You guys are the base of this project. And so we want to get your creative ideas flowing, and understand how you guys use the library and what you guys want so we can begin with your ideas to give you the library that you want."

White paper, pens and even crayons were handed out to the audience to write and/or draw their ideas. After about 10 minutes, audience members discussed what they wrote or drew as well as what they liked about the existing library with members of the firm.

Among the things audience members said they like is the accessibility of the main desk, located near the entrance of the library and easy to see.

'Storyville,' better look

One parent said the new library should include a "Storyville" section similar to what some libraries in Baltimore County have, providing a large area for kids to play and enjoy books. Another audience member said a larger meeting room is necessary.

Audience members also noted that the existing library is rather insignificant in terms of its appearance, saying it doesn't stand out and isn't recognizable as a library.

"The library makes itself known on Union [Avenue] with a signboard, which is visible if you're driving down Union, but you have to kind of know what it is when you get there," said resident Jack Hirschfeld. He showed everyone his drawing of a possible library, with steps in the front and a lion on either side, like the Art Institute of Chicago.

"Now that's an exaggeration, but you get the idea. You know that's a library," Hirschfeld said to laughs. He said he hopes the new library will include more exhibition and museum space for historical items, noting that the city had a strong sense of history.

Hirschfeld's wife, Jan, said the library would take incorporate the city's maritime history in its architecture.

Deborah Chapman, a resident who has been going to the library for 25 years, said that a traffic light may be necessary to help the elderly cross the street and suggested commemorative bricks could be sold to raise money for the project, as been at other libraries in Harford County.

After hearing initial comments, the architects shared some of their preliminary sketches and ideas for the library via PowerPoint slides. Manns explained what led the firm to come up with the sketches of the outside, as well as the inside, noting the significance of Union Avenue to Havre de Grace.

"We were thinking internally before we got into this thing that whatever we do here has to strengthen the avenue itself, and before we can think about what happens on the inside, we've got to make sure that we draw community in and that we respect the culture that is the community and is the city of Havre de Grace," he said.

The sketches included a play area for children with a boat to go along with Havre de Grace's maritime culture, as well as decoys and boat models in the main lobby. Members of the team stressed that all sketches, both of the inside and outside, are subject to change based on community input and the project budget.

"We didn't want to commit to something and say this is what has to be," he said. "This is your library, not ours."

Historic vs. contemporary