Most people think of libraries as a place for quiet study and research. But tonight, the Howard County Central Library is a concert hall for musician Lynn Reggia.
"People just associate libraries with quiet," Reggia said. But "the library is a place where you go to learn and grow as a person" through books and other materials, she said. "Why not listen to music, too?"
Reggia is part of a diverse group of local musicians helping the library regularly break the "quiet library" stereotype through the its Third Thursdays at the Cafe concert series.
The music is a draw for the library, said Elaine Lawrence, the library's volunteer coordinator. "Where else can you get free music, coffee [and] all the books you want?"
Lawrence and library associate Sylvia Waters have coordinated the Third Thursdays program since it began in March last year. Conceived as a way of attracting people to the renovated library, the monthly evening concerts have elicited enthusiastic responses from library patrons, performers and library employees. The program will end next month, but Lawrence said the library will continue to showcase live music.
"It's been really well-received," library associate David Towner said.
Towner usually works at the library's information desk Thursday evenings, but he and other library employees often attend the concerts during breaks. "We've had such a nice variety of [music] on Thursdays," he said.
Performers have included a classical guitarist, a harpist, a sitar player, lots of singer-songwriters and a klezmer band.
Reggia and her band Omnis Musica will add to that musical diversity as tonight's performers. "It's going to be mostly classical and some new-agey stuff," said Reggia, who plays piano and guitar. A violinist, a flutist and a fiddler will join her tonight, she said.
An 18-year-old from Columbia, Reggia usually plays for nursing home residents. "We're taking our music to where they don't really have it," she said, which explains the band's name: her approximation of the Latin for "music everywhere." Waters and Lawrence invited Reggia to play after her performance during a Third Thursday open mike program.
"She's just a marvelous, marvelous talent," said Lawrence, who added that the library does not pay performers but buys their CDs and adds them to the circulating audiovisual collection.
The library reopened in October 2001 after 15 months of renovations. "We wanted to do something that would let people know we were open," explained then-branch manager Liz Lancaster. She said the staff wanted an unusual event that also worked toward the library's goals of building community and helping people enrich themselves.
"Music seemed to fit with that," said Lancaster, who is now the associate director of the county's library system. "And it's worked pretty well."
Said Lawrence: "At first it was hard getting [performers] to come in here." But word of the new venue spread quickly and soon performers were contacting the library and sending demo tapes.
The program took off with audiences, too. "Originally, we thought we would have music in the cafe," Waters said. But the audiences quickly outgrew the cafe area in the library's lobby, and performances were moved into the semicircular meeting room just behind it. Audiences typically range from 25 to 40 people.
Last month's performers, singer/songwriters Iris Hirsch of Columbia and Joe Spatarella of Ellicott City, said the meeting room is a great performance space. "The acoustics in it were just wonderful," Spatarella said.
He also enjoyed the casual audience interaction that the venue encouraged. "It was like we were visiting in someone's living room."
The diversity of the audience was another plus. "It was mostly people we had never seen before," Hirsch said. She said many signed up to learn about Hirsch and Spatarella's future concerts.
Spatarella said some audience members looked like they stopped by on a whim after checking out books. "It was everything from kids ... to some older folks," he said. "It's always gratifying to see that kind of mix of ages and people in the audience."
Despite the program's success, Lawrence said the Third Thursday series will end after next month's show. She said that she and Waters have had fun, but it's become too much work to coordinate and promote a show every month. The library will still be host of regular shows, however.
"We will have something scheduled for each quarter," Lawrence said.
Lynn Reggia and members of her group Omnis Musica will perform tonight in the meeting room of Howard County Central Library at 7 p.m. Admission is free, and free coffee is available.