At Howard County libraries, a new kind of blind date

Blind dates can be nerve-wracking, stressful, exciting and fun. Throughout the month of February — and with a focus on the last two emotions — Howard County libraries are helping their patrons go on blind dates of their own: with books.

"This is a way to read something new, that you may not have read otherwise," said Aimee Zuccarini, a research specialist and instructor with the Howard County Library System, as she stood in front of the display in the East Columbia Branch filled with books, each with their covers and spines wrapped in pink and red paper.


When patrons check the books out, they have no idea what book they're actually getting. But the books try to make their own case: a sign on the display declares "I'm a Keeper — check me out."

The process, at least at East Columbia, isn't entirely blind; a reader can still peak at the title page, or the back of the book, and there's key words on the front of each covered book, like "funny" or "romantic." Zuccarini said she tried to pick a wide range of (love-related) themes and moods.

Zuccarini puts together themed displays every month, and slowly the February display has evolved into the blind book dates.

Blind book dates are a growing trend in libraries across the country, spread by social media sites like Tumblr, Reddit and Pinterest. The trend is growing in Howard County, as well. In Ellicott City, the Miller Branch has its blind book date display — about 20 books strong — in the young adult section. There, the intrigue is a little stronger — the books are wrapped entirely, like presents, which makes peeking impossible.

It doesn't seem to be deterring readers, said Stephanie Darby, assistant branch manager at Miller. On the contrary, the books are flying off the shelves.

"We had about 16 go out the first day, and since then it's been a huge, constant turnover," Darby said. "We just keep wrapping books. It's nearly impossible to keep it filled."

Three key words emblazon each wrapped cover, like "mermaid, true love, princess," or "baseball, Shakespeare, poetry." The selections are all popular young adult books, Darby said, and aren't exclusively romantically themed.

"This is for everyone," she said.

The teen instructor and research specialist who set up the display, Courtney Gardinier, put together a master list of all the books checked out through the display. That way, Darby said, library employees are still able to check the books out through the system (the scanner can also read through the paper wrapping), and patrons nervous about a "blind date" don't have to go in completely blind.

"If it's really, really nerve-wracking for you, like if you were really excited and at the last minute you start to panic, we can tell you what book you're getting," Darby said.

That hasn't been the case too much, Darby said. After all, there's nothing like a good blind date.

"It's the mystery of it all," she said. "It's exciting because you don't know what you're going to get."

At the Central Branch in Columbia, Angie Engles, an instructor and research specialist said patrons there enjoy the excitement and mystery of blind book dates — she left hints for readers written on hearts on the wrapped books because she "doesn't want a person to walk away knowing exactly what they have in their hands."

Engles opted for books that aren't on the best-seller list, because people are "already so exposed to that. We hope to educate people about books they wouldn't normally pick up."


Sometimes the most exciting part — just like a real blind date — is the anticipation, Engles said.

"We encourage people to wait until they get home to unwrap the book," Engles said. "That's part of the fun."