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Reading in a fantasy world


A medieval castle with arched windows, turrets and a majestic entrance is under construction at the Towson branch of the Baltimore County Public Library.

The structure, located in the library's children's area, isn't intended to protect precious tomes, but to entice children and their parents to spend more time browsing for literary classics such as "Charlotte's Web" and "Curious George."

"We want to create a completely different world here," said library Manager Jennifer Haire, who expects the castle project to be finished by mid-June.

Librarians know that parents and children are busy and that the time they spend together can be short and sporadic, said Haire. She hopes the castle will make more families decide to spend their together time at the library rather than at a mall.

"Tests show how important it is for children under the age of 3 to be read to and to have sensory experiences," said Haire. "We want to make it easy for parents to choose the library as a place to come and give the children that gift and give them those language experiences."

The Towson project comes less than a year after librarians, teachers and their pupils celebrated the opening of a new child-centered wing at the Enoch Pratt Free Library. That project includes a performance theater with an ethereal dome and a reading garden with beanbag chairs and potted palms.

Towson's castle project, on which construction was started last week, will cost the library about $50,000 and will serve as a model for the county, said Haire. Eventually, other libraries could add castles, or at least castle motifs, depending on available space.

The Towson branch has raised $30,000 to fund the initial work, said Haire. A large chunk of that money - about $20,000 - was raised by the Foundation for the Baltimore County Public Library. Friends of the Towson Library donated $10,000.

Doug Chenoweth, an architect with Towson-based Rubeling and Associates Inc., designed the castle at no charge. Members of Bykota Senior Center in Towson made and donated a puppet theater.

The library needs another $15,000 to $20,000 to add the finishing touches, said Haire, who hopes that local businesses and residents might help make up the difference. Librarians want to purchase chairs and beanbags, and they plan to hire an artist to paint dragons along library walls.

The Camelot-in-miniature that Haire and her colleagues are creating - in designing the new children's library, they recalled favorite childhood fairy tales - will be filled with quiet nooks that they hope will encourage little ones to curl up and read.

A baby and toddler area, located at one end of the children's section, will feature pint-sized castle walls so parents can peruse the bookshelves without worrying that their babies will wander off.

"It's a place that will recognize the developmental needs children have, such as room to play and cardboard books they don't have to put back on the right shelf," said Haire. "It will be a magical, special place."

The main castle walls, which will measure 13.5 feet tall and include three slightly taller turrets, will serve to separate the children's area from the rest of the library. Currently, children's books are shelved near adult romance novels. Bookcases filled with novels for young adults line one edge of the section. Librarians wanted to provide a separate spot for children.

Once children enter through the castle's front gate, they will be able to climb a set of stairs for a view from the parapet, peek out the castle's arched windows, cozy up next to a faux fireplace, or plunk down in the queen's throne. There will be puppet shows and maybe a suit of armor.

The dragons that will be painted on the walls of the children's library will play up the Arthurian theme. Recently, the walls were painted white to brighten the area. A librarian is making a quilt to hang from a wall, and another librarian has donated money to purchase puppets.

As they started planning for the castle about a year ago, the librarians knew they wanted it to be more than just a facade with painted stonework and cardboard turrets, said Lisa Woznicki, the branch's assistant library manager and castle project leader.

"All of us got really jazzed about the project and started thinking about things like enchanted forests," she said. "We want the kids to feel the same way. We want to get them here!"

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