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Carroll, Harford, Howard public libraries named among top systems nationwide

Andrea Berstler, the executive director of Carroll County Public Library pictured in 2018, described the library system's staff as “one of the most dedicated passionate staff across the state. They firmly believe in the mission of the library.”
Andrea Berstler, the executive director of Carroll County Public Library pictured in 2018, described the library system's staff as “one of the most dedicated passionate staff across the state. They firmly believe in the mission of the library.” (Dylan Slagle / Carroll County Times)

A recent Gallup poll found that trips to the library were the most common cultural activity for American adults in 2019. And as far as libraries go, Carroll County Public Library has been named among the best in the nation.

CCPL has been named a four-star library for the second year in a row by a national publication that reviews library services.

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The Library Journal reviewed 6,333 libraries in the U.S. for its index. Only 261 merited a star rating. This could be three, four or five stars.

Carroll earned a four-star status for the second year in a row, a rating that only 31 other library systems in the country received in consecutive years, according to a news release from CCPL.

If you ask Andrea Berstler, executive director of CCPL, to list what makes the library system great, she will probably ask how much time you have to listen.

“We have found a really good balance between these very strong literacy and education programs that people expect from the library, and some of these newer tech education and tech integration programs that people go, ‘Oh, I didn't know the library did that.’ And it keeps it exciting,” she said. “I think it's a wonderful balance.”

CCPL tops the state in circulation per capita, and the system sees that as a reflection of an engaged community who wants to learn. Berstler also described the staff as “one of the most dedicated passionate staff across the state. They firmly believe in the mission of the library.”

The two factors combine into “sort of this perfect storm of a library here in the middle of a rural county.”

Carroll County has placed on the star list 10 out of the past 12 years as a four-star library. The two remaining years, CCPL spokeswoman Lisa Picker said, Carroll was not eligible for consideration because of a statewide change in how data was reported. For those two years, in 2016 and 2017, no Maryland libraries were eligible for the Library Journal’s ratings.

The Howard County Library System received a five-star rating this year, making it the only system in Maryland to achieve the highest ranking. The only other library system in Maryland to achieve four-star status this year was that of Harford.

“Howard County Library System has been a five-star library system since 2010, a ranking achieved by fewer than 1% of public libraries in the U.S.,” HCPL President and CEO Tonya Aikens said in a statement.

“This is a direct reflection of our top-notch team, their passion for creating relationships with our customers while delivering innovative classes, enlightening experiences, and ability to curate collections that resonate with our community (including tools, art and ukuleles). This is what our customers have come to expect and we are diligent about finding new ways to exceed their expectations.”

Mary Hastler, CEO of Harford County Public Library, said the Harford library system was awarded a star rating for the 12th year, “consistently” earning a four-star ranking.

Hastler said in an email, “Maryland is considered Library Heaven and to have three public library systems designated as ‘Star Libraries’ is terrific ... It is an exciting time to be a public library customer and we are thrilled to share this recognition with our community!”

Berstler said, “Maryland has a collaborative environment for its libraries. It allows all the libraries to do better than they could do individually. … Several Maryland libraries tend to consistently be out in front and consistently able to leverage their local funding and their local support into some quality services.”

The rankings are based on the community’s use of the library system. Data includes circulation, circulation of electronic materials, library visits, program attendance and public internet computer use, including Wi-Fi sessions.

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The factors that Library Journal rates are tied to the core services of a library system, Berstler said. “The idea is to try and make your library respond to the needs of this community. And this is a measurement of that.”

She continued: “They also reflect a lot of the decisions we make as far as what hours we’re open, at which branches we offer certain services or programs that are tailored to meet the needs of that particular community. A four-star rating means that we’re getting a lot of that right.”

The ratings take the size of the community into consideration in order to put library systems on a more even playing field.

“Libraries are the most democratic of all of our organizations. It matters not who you are. You can come in and use the library and utilize all the resources of the library,” Berstler said.

If people have not visited in the past five years, she encourages them to come in and check out a local branch.

“If you said, ‘Well, it's just a place where you can go get books and attend storytimes,’ that's, that's to discount all the other things that it does.”

Picker said, “We're ensuring that we are at the forefront of offering services that our community needs for the 21st century.”

The Library Journal index of libraries is available at libraryjournal.com.

This story has been updated to reflect that the Howard County Library System received a five-star rating for 2019.

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