As CEO of Harford County Public Library, Mary L. Hastler oversees an 11-branch system that serves more than 194,000 registered borrowers and has an annual circulation of 4.7 million.
But her first library patrons weren’t of the human kind.
“I used to play library when I was very young with my books that I had on hand and my stuffed animals and Barbies,” the Bel Air resident said. “I would pretend to be a librarian, and they would come and check out my books and materials.”
Hastler and her husband, Mark, have two daughters and three grandchildren. She is a self-proclaimed speed-reader with two graduate degrees, and she’s in the middle of a six-course online governmental accounting program.
Now in her ninth year at the system’s helm, Hastler shares what she’s reading, why she loves libraries and how she juggles so many commitments at once.
Before your library career, you held several managerial positions in health care. Why did you change careers?
A friend of mine was very active with the Bel Air Friends [of Harford County Library] group. She called me one night and said, “Mary, I know you love the library, do you want to go to a meeting with me?” I loved being involved with the group as a volunteer. Then a couple years later, a nine-hour-a-week reference assistant position opened up at the Bel Air Library. I thought that would be fun to do in my free time. … I applied for it and just loved it.
How has the library system changed since you became CEO?
When the internet came on, I thought it was the best thing since mashed potatoes at the holidays. Of course, we had hundreds of reference books, and everything was done very traditionally. ... Now, we have very few print reference books because most of the publishers have put them into digital so we have the databases.
It’s also [become] a gathering place for creating original content. We do that through our Innovation Lab, our 3-D printing, our green screen. It’s a place where you can come and support your small business. And it’s all free.
I just finished “The Girl on the Balcony: Olivia Hussey Finds Life After Romeo and Juliet.” I like biographies because they give you insight into the person. ... The next one I’m reading is “Tooth and Nail: The Making of a Female Fight Doctor.” It’s not fiction. She’s a physician in New York City, and she’s an official boxing doctor. I thought, “This sounds intriguing.”
What’s your favorite library program?
It’s like your favorite child. I love all my children equally. But I think the one that reflects me personally and my vision for the library is the Bel Air Children’s Department renovation. It combines the early literacy piece and the StreamWorks lab, and it spans from birth all the way up through middle school. It has that amazing effect where people walk in and they usually go “Wow.” Then they go start exploring.
You volunteer with and are on the board for several community organizations. What drives you to give so much of your time?
I’m never doing just one thing. I have a lot of energy, and I love giving back and paying it forward. It’s something I’ve always done. … As my mom always said, ‘You’ve got to keep moving.’ And my dad always said you never regret the things you do but you sometimes regret the things that you don’t do. I’ve taken both of those to heart.