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In same building, senior center, library enjoy large and loyal following in Pikesville

Pikesville Senior Center volunteers Sandy Ashkenas, left, and Jackie Stern, right, both of Pikesville sit outside of the Pikesville Branch of the Baltimore County Public Library and Pikesville Senior Center located off of Reisterstown Road in Pikesville, MD on Thursday, October 20, 2016.
Pikesville Senior Center volunteers Sandy Ashkenas, left, and Jackie Stern, right, both of Pikesville sit outside of the Pikesville Branch of the Baltimore County Public Library and Pikesville Senior Center located off of Reisterstown Road in Pikesville, MD on Thursday, October 20, 2016. (Jen Rynda / Baltimore Sun Media Group)

The Pikesville branch of the Baltimore County Public Library and the Pikesville Senior Center have more in common than sharing the Pikesville Community Center building and a cramped parking lot at 1301 Reisterstown Road.

Both are cut from the same public-service cloth and often serve the same clientele.

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"The shared facility is a benefit to the community," said Judy Kaplan, a Glyndon resident who has managed the Pikesville library for 4 1/2 years. "Together we can provide a lot of meaningful experiences. BCPL's partnership with the senior center means that people have many reasons to come — events, classes, computer use, books and other items to take home."

There are other branches in Baltimore County, such as the Sollers Point and Lansdowne libraries, that share a building with a recreation center.

Moreover, the Owings Mills branch is part of the County Campus at Metro Centre, sharing space with the Community College of Baltimore County.

The Pikesville library boasts 21,500 square feet of space on the ground floor, while the senior center occupies a similarly sized space on the top floor of the two-story building.

It is open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday.

Paula Miller, Baltimore County Public Library's first female director, is forward-focused on bringing the system into the 21st century withan emphasis on people, connections and services.

"We do some programs with the library," said Reggie Rodbell, the senior center's first-vice president. "We had a book discussion with kids from Beth Tfiloh, and once or twice a year we read to younger kids down there. We have a great relationship with the library."

Both institutions are very popular, drawing large crowds that peak on Fridays preceding Shabbat, which is a day of prayer and rest in the Jewish faith and akin to the Sabbath in Christianity.

The Pikesville branch, in particular, is usually busy before sundown Friday, when Shabbat begins and people are checking out a large number of books to provide entertainment and cerebral sustenance during the ensuing 24 hours.

"I liken Fridays to Giant before a snowstorm," Kaplan said. "Some customers check out as many as 100 books, and we are sure to schedule staff accordingly."

That doesn't mean, however, that the library is predominantly Jewish, Kaplan said.

"We have a very diverse customer base," she said, "including immigrants from Russia, Iran, Central America and Africa."

Like its downstairs neighbor, the senior center also is usually humming on Fridays when twice the usual number of people show up to partake of a modest $3.50 lunch at the cafeteria. Breakfast is also served, at the facility, including a bagel and a coffee for a mere $1.25.

There are other Friday favorites as well, including Xbox bowling and a pool table to amuse some of the 300 people who crowd the facility, above the daily average of 222 patrons who visited the senior center in 2015.

"They taught some of the women how to play pool," Rodbell said. "The place is really jumping on Friday."

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With people flocking to the two-in-one facility, parking — there are only 160 spaces for vehicles — is at a premium.

On a recent weekday, cars circled the small lot in hopes that a spot would appear. There are also some metered spaces on busy Reisterstown Road.

"It's always crowded," said John Coughlin, a retired U.S. Army officer whose second career was as a vice president at Levindale health center. "And it's hard to find a place to park."

Still, he and his wife, Sandy Liberman, make the trek once a week to the library.

He goes for adventure books, while the former nurse prefers mysteries and medical stories.

"If you know Pikesville, you know everyone here," Liberman said. "There is absolutely a community feeling here. The staff is extraordinarily nice and they go out of their way to help you."

When Lisa Hughes began her career as a librarian, computers were few and far between. The Internet was in its infancy. No one had heard of downloadable audio books. The help desk answered questions, not helped with job searches and resume writing. On Nov.1, with minimal fanfare at her request, Hughes will retire as manager of the Towson Branch of the Baltimore County Public Library.

Pikesville patrons borrowed nearly 1.5 million items (books, audio books, DVDs, CDs, magazines, video games, educational tablets for children) in the last fiscal year, making it the second-busiest library in the county behind the Cockeysville branch (1.6 million) and well ahead of Towson (960,000).

The busy information desk provides more than checkout services to customers who don't use the automated checkout to borrow any of the 85,000 items typically available.

Other information desk services vary wildly, from looking up phone numbers, answering questions about movies and lyrics to instructions on uploading photos to Facebook or advice on résumé writing.

Near the information desk are rows of 24 desktop computers that are often in use by patrons, such as Fran Pryor, who don't own their own devices. Pryor said that he can always find a vacant computer for two-hour stints on any of his three weekly trips by bus to the library.

According to Kaplan, Pryor and other computer users may find a more convenient way to use the technology because laptops (Chromebooks) and preloaded e-readers (Playaway Locks) will soon be available for borrowers.

Upstairs, Robert Dudley, a former Northrop Grumman executive, is not seeking the latest electronic gizmo to pique his interest.

Instead, his weekly trek to the senior center involves taking a ceramics class with his wife, Susan, a retired associate professor of political science at the Community College of Baltimore County. She also takes advantage of cardio-fitness classes a couple of other times per week without her spouse.

The Pikesville couple are among those who do not look favorably on the parking situation, but "always find a spot," according to Robert Dudley.

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The senior center, which turned 34 in May, is open Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. and is, in large part, staffed by volunteers such as receptionists Jackie Stern and Sandy Ashkenas and board members Rodbell, Estelle Roll (second-vice president) and Kathy Brummett (president).

They enroll members into any of the 60 classes offered by the center — from art history to opera appreciation — and register new members, work the front desk and monitor the fitness center before it closes at 2 p.m.

"We organize trips, too," Roll said. "We do a little bit of everything."

Working under Judy Finifter, the senior center's director, their volunteerism is welcomed by the 1,500 members.

"We do it because it feels good," Rodbell said. "A lot of people here don't have family."

They also do it for themselves.

"If it hadn't been for the senior center, I would have been in a rubber room somewhere a long time ago," Rodbell joked.

Programs at the senior center and library, including the library's speaker series, often complement each other, in part because Joanne Williams, the Baltimore County Department of Aging director, and her BCPL counterpart, Paula Miller, believe it's a win-win for their clientele.

"Paula and I have decided to put our heads together on a few joint, integrative programs," Williams said. "We try to help out with some special events, like reading and storytelling."

Miller, who has been the BCPL director for two years, said that the percentage of active borrowers with cards from the Pikesville area is well above the national average at 79 percent.

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"It's a very busy facility for both entities," she said. "They both have dedicated customers who love being there."



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