New branch books busy early weeks

Beth LaPenotiere, Since its opening May 17, branch manager Beth LaPenotiere says, the Abingdon branch of the Harford County public library system has been very busy.

The library, which started with about 90,000 items and now has more than 100,000, circulated 25,002 items in its first 12 days, said LaPenotiere, who previously managed the Fallston/Jarrettsville branch.


By comparison, the Aberdeen library, a branch that some Abingdon patrons used to visit, circulated 19,584 items in May, according to LaPenotiere. Many The Bel Air branch, the largest in the county, circulated 78,047 items that month .

'Positive feedback'


"For being open only 12 days, circulating 25,000 items is very good," she said. "We have gotten enormous positive feedback from our customers."

Audra Kaplan, director of the library system, said interest in the Abingdon branch continued last month, when about 6,000 items were circulated. A final figure is not available.

Abingdon was lacking a convenient public library despite its growing population. The proximity of the new branch was all the encouragement some residents needed to take advantage of the library's services.

During its first two weeks, the library handed out 548 new library cards, LaPenotiere said.

"These were people who'd never had a library card," she said.

John Brandt of Abingdon is one of the new patrons. Never before a regular visitor to a county library, he has been to the Abingdon branch five times.

At first, Brandt went only to take his 9-year-old granddaughter. Now he sometimes goes alone to borrow books for himself.

"You go in there and it's a neat place," Brandt said. "There's a lot of open space, so you can wander."


The building was designed to appeal to the needs of the community. The goal, said architect Gary Getz, vice president of Morris & Ritchie Associates Inc., which designed the building, was to make the library and its 15.2 acres a community center.

In an effort to become a place where people will want to spend time, the library is following the trend set by Barnes & Noble bookstores with Starbucks coffee bars. A coffee shop - the first in a Harford County public library - will open in the next few weeks. Catering by Jane, owned by Jane Fallon, will provide the drinks and muffins.

Some patrons, including Shelly Solimini of Abingdon, are a little leery about coffee drinking in the library.

"I've never experienced food and drinks mixed with a library," Solimini said, adding that "food and books usually don't mix."

LaPenotiere said precautions will be taken to ensure that accidents remain rare.

"With the cafe, they are going to make sure there will be lids," she said. "I'm not worried."


The library has the first self-checkout system in Harford County. A checkout pad can deactivate the security and sign out up to eight books at once.

Solimini said she and her children, ages 7 and 3, love the library. She estimated that they've visited it five to 10 times.

Nancy Schmidt of Abingdon and her 5-year-old daughter, Ashleigh, have also increased their library visits since the branch opened.

"It's convenient," she said. "It's five minutes away instead of 15."

Peggy Kirk and Cheryl Manzone of neighboring Emmorton Elementary School are pleased to hear of such frequent family reading trips. Kirk, principal of Emmorton, and Manzone, the reading specialist, said they look forward to a partnership between the school and the library.

"We have tried very hard to find ways to encourage the joy of reading, and the library is going to help us with that," said Kirk.


Last year, pupils at the elementary school donated about 100 books to the library as part of a schoolwide reading incentive program.

The school's fourth-graderswill take advantage of the 15.2-acre library campus, which includes a natural amphitheater. A pond and wetland are part of ecological study area, along with lawn, meadow, new forest and mature forest habitats, Getz said.

A boardwalk connects the elementary school property to the library, which Kirk said can be used by the after-school environmental club.

The library does not have any immediate plans to begin any outdoor programs, LaPenotiere said.

"Being a new library, we want to make sure we offer the basic services first," she said

Manzone said she is thrilled to have a library so close. Services such as the drive-through window will permit her to call and place a request for a book in the morning, then drive over and pick it up on her lunch break.


'Comfortable' place

"It couldn't be any easier to access," Manzone said. "And they've really tried to make it inviting. It's just a really comfortable environment."

So comfortable that Ann McElwee of Bel Air has been willing to bypass the Bel Air library for the new Abingdon branch, even though Bel Air is closer. She said she likes the library so much that hopes to be hired to work there.

"This is a wonderful public," LaPenotiere said. "They are very proud of their library."

For the record

Because of an editing error, an article about the Abingdon library in last week's Harford edition of The Sun gave an incorrect figure for the estimated June circulation at the new branch.Audra Kaplan, director of the Harford County Public Library, estimated that June circulation for the branch was more than 60,000.The Sun regrets the error.