xml:space="preserve">

Two-year-old Fiona DeArmas and her mother, Amy, were strolling through the stacks of the Arbutus branch of the Baltimore County Public Library last week, searching for the right book to take home.

In a tradition passed on to each of Amy's six children, she'd be allowed to take out as many books as her age.

Advertisement

On July 1, Fiona turned three.

And if her older children were any indication, she'd be excited for the perk.

"When my oldest was 10, she was really happy because she could get 10 books," she said. "It's the little things like that they've enjoyed."

The library has been an important resource for DeArmas, who teachers her children at home. Not only has it been important place for her to instill a love of reading to her children, but the library has become a gathering spot for home schooling parents, she said. Her children have taken part in a number of programs there over the years.

"I think for children, holding the book and being able to flip the pages and physically feeling them and looking at them is a big deal," she said. "We need the library to have that."

As technology changes, from books to Blu-rays, libraries have rolled with the times and adapted, according to Robert Maranto Jr., manager of the Arbutus and Lansdowne branches of the Baltimore County Public Library.

What remains is a free service that has evolved in purpose. With computers now prevalent — 12 for adults and two for children in Lansdowne and 30 for adults and six for children in Arbutus — many adults come to the library to get help with job searches and many children use the computers to access educational software that isn't at home. A variety of programming is offered to help with early childhood literacy for children or hobbies for adults.

"We're very much a trusted institution," he said. "Obviously we're supported by the taxpayers, directly, but we do have a trust there that we're going to find resources for them ... and they trust it's going to be quality and meet their need as best as we can. I think that's an important thing in a time of cynicism about a lot of stuff, that we still have a lot of people who trust us for those services."

The first library in Arbutus was established in 1948, as the Arbutus-Halethorpe Free Library, in the basement of the Arbutus Hardware store on East Drive. Its popularity led it to move into larger spots in the early 1950s over an A&P grocery store and in 1962, at 1581 Sulphur Spring Road, where it remained until 2010, when its current 25,000-square foot facility, just down the street, opened.

In the 2015 budget year, the library had 215,767 visits, 458,826 items borrowed and 9,936 people attending 302 programs.

The Arbutus branch was the first in Baltimore County to offer a walk-in passport service, starting in January 2015. As of June 28, the library processed 4,183 passport applications and took 2,419 passport photos, Maranto said.

As a result of Arbutus' success, two additional branches — Towson and White Marsh — started providing the service in June, he said. He believes it's something that can become prevalent in libraries nationwide.

"At least not now, it's not something that most people would think of," he said about getting a passport at the library. "But I think it's a logical service for us to offer because it's a government service."

In Lansdowne, Baltimore County built the first library there in 1966 on Third Avenue. The 5,400-square foot facility was closed in 1993 due to budget cutbacks but was renovated reopened in 2006.

Advertisement

In the 2015 budget year, the library had 95,571 visits, 77,288 items borrowed and 4,118 people attending 296 programs.

Nationally, 96.5 million people attended nearly 4.3 million public programs and public libraries in fiscal 2013, an increase of 28.6 percent for all programs since 2006, according to the Institute of Museum and Library Services, which released findings from its 2013 Public Libraries Survey in March 2016. The same report showed attendance at children's programs increased by 29.7 percent over 10 years, with 67.4 million attendees at children's programs and 6.1 million attendees at programs for young adults.

Moving forward, Maranto believes an emerging trend could be making. The Arbutus library recently hosted a workshop for 6-to-12-year-olds to make their own terrariums, while the Lansdowne branch offers several craft classes and groups for patrons.

He thinks the growing trend can be an expansion of the locavore movement, comparing it to people growing their own vegetables or making quilts or blankets. New technologies that may not be easily accessible for the masses, such as a 3-D printer, could be made available at libraries to help people create, he said.

"I think it's empowering for people," he said. "It taps into that desire to within reason be self sufficient and have that pride of creation you don't necessarily have by just buying something ready off the shelf."

Chrysalinn and Ulysses Archie of Baltimore brought four of their six children to the Arbutus branch on a recent summer day to spend the afternoon. While Chrysalinn looked through books for dinner recipes, 8-year-old Uzziah was sitting with her, 4-year-old Gavin was playing on a computer, while 6-year-old Ennis and 1-year-old Amos were playing in an activity room.

They come to the library every few weeks for books, fun and, in the summer, air conditioning. It's a resource and a quiet place that Chrysalinn is grateful for.

"It's an open space where they feel welcomed," she said.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement