"Growing up, I would play librarian," says Mary Hastler. "I would line my stuffed animals up, and they would check out books."
So maybe it's no surprise that during Hastler's first career in health-care administration, she began volunteering with Bel Air Friends of the Library, helping organize fundraisers. Soon enough, she was working nine hours a week at the library, which snowballed into a new career. In 2010, she became director of the Harford County Public Library.
Hastler's mission is to reinvent the library continually to maintain its relevance to the public. As the Bel Air resident puts it: "It's all about making connections and developing relationships."
To that end, she immerses herself professionally in a variety of events and enterprises. There was last year's "Journey Stories" project, which involved 100-some groups and organizations for a "cultural marathon." There are visits from authors, a car show with the Lions Club of Jarrettsville, programs with the Healthy Harford initiative and partnerships with the county's Office of Economic Development to help guide entrepreneurs -- just to name a few.
On a personal level, too, Hastler is active in the community as the face of the library. She and her husband, Mark, learned to waltz for the Center for the Arts' Dancing for the Arts event; she kissed a pig to support the Boys & Girls Club; and she volunteered to be arrested and thrown in jail until her supporters could bail her out to raise money for muscular dystrophy research.
Hastler's passion is early literacy. "Those developmental stages are critical," she says. "It sets the stage for the child for the future, whether it's school readiness or the rest of their life."
Prior to her director role in Harford, she spearheaded Baltimore County pubic library system's launch of Storyville, child-sized areas filled with books, toys and activities to encourage early literacy and learning. And in Harford County, she's guided the creation of Little Leapers, plastic bins filled with themed books, toys and curricula for children from birth through age 5 intended to support early-literacy skills and promote bonding between children and parents. The kits debuted in March, just six months after the idea's conception.
Hastler's horizon is a busy one. Over the next 12 months, the Havre de Grace library will be redesigned, an American Girl doll and book collection will be added to the system's inventory for patrons to check out, a new e-book product will be tested to expand Harford's digital collection and, beginning this year with Bel Air, early-literacy play centers (akin to Storyville) will be added to each branch.
"We're always reinventing ourselves," Hastler says, adding that funding is among her greatest professional challenges. The goal, she says, is to balance the cost of new initiatives with the library's bread and butter, like children's story times and providing the system's patrons with "content" -- no matter what form it takes.
"I have the best library staff," Hastler adds. "They're the ones who make me look good and put my heart into it."
Off the clock with Hastler:
Favorite books: The Betsy and Tacy children's series by Maud Lovelace Favorite movie: "Pirates of the Caribbean" Little-known fact: A self-proclaimed "Disney freak," she visits a Disney park every six weeks. Career advice for women: "I rarely regret what I've done -- it's easier to regret what I haven't done. Be adventurous. Don't listen to those naysayers. There will always be someone to tell you that you aren't good enough."