A growth chapter for library system

The Baltimore Sun

The Carroll County Public Library prides itself on being a great place to learn, and it has the numbers to back up the claim: Since 1994, the library has ranked first in the state in circulation per capita, with 21.3 items per person in fiscal year 2006.

Of the county's estimated 163,200 residents last year, 90 percent were registered borrowers, and the library's five branches offered 5,555 programs, which were attended by more than 131,000 people.

And all the while, the library continues to grow to meet the demands of its patrons.

"We've got a lot going on," said Lynn Wheeler, the county library director. "Bids will be going out this spring for the new Finksburg branch. Taneytown is getting a 5,000-square-foot addition any day now -- the construction still has to be bid. We're getting a new bookmobile this summer -- we're really excited about that because the old one is 19 years old."

The Finksburg branch will be about 13,000 square feet, with a large lobby that can be used to expand the library if needed later, Wheeler said.

"We're going to expand the children's area at Taneytown -- it's very cramped right now," said Ann Wisner, external relations manager. "There will be all new children and adult stacks, and a new mechanical room and more space for computers."

The new bookmobile will feature a lift and ramp for handicapped-accessibility and computer technology, Wheeler said.

"The bookmobile goes to 74 stops," said Wisner. "It goes to day care centers and goes to some neighborhood stops and the senior centers."

For those who have trouble getting out, the library comes to them: The bookmobile and two smaller vans visit senior-living communities around the county on a regular basis.

In addition, grant money has been applied to renovate the Westminster branch, and the library headquarters will be moving to two floors of the old New Windsor Middle School in the summer of 2008.

"The Westminster branch does nearly 1 million circulation annually, so it obviously has hard use," Wisner said. "We're going to redo the interior, replace shelving, put in a really cool children's area and reconfigure things."

An architect is working on plans for the new headquarters, which will give staff more space.

Ever-changing computer technology creates extra demand on library services, but also offers space and money savings in other areas.

"Libraries have picked up shelf space with computers having reference materials," Wheeler said. "That leaves more space for fun reading, and not having to replace reference materials is a savings -- that used to be a full-time job."

After 25 years of publishing its "Purple Book," the annual Directory of Community Services, the library this year decided it would no longer print hard copies of the book of Carroll County information.

"Because they're out of date as soon as they're printed," Wheeler said. "We're spending the money we used to print the directory on updating software to make it more accessible on the Web."

That means users of the directory will get the most recent information on the organizations with a visit to the Web site (www.library.carr.org).

An information technology staff of five keeps the computers working and as current as possible, Wheeler said.

But books are still the backbone of any library, and Wheeler said some changes have been made to make the collection of books -- as well as magazines, newspapers, CDs, tapes and DVDs -- more accessible. Instead of items staying at one branch, they are distributed to wherever they're needed.

Libraries today, however, are more than just collections. They are learning sites for all ages, offering a range of activities from story times for children, to teen activities, to educational and fun programs for adults.

A sampling of library offerings includes "Aha! Science" experiments; "Skytellers" Native American stories; drop-in crafts; American Girls parties; Yu-Gi-Oh events; Shakespeare workshops; the summer reading program; Gametopia; the Teen Advisory Board; dancing; live concerts; author talks; and adult programs on finance, history, identity theft awareness, genealogy, poetry, gardening and computers.

Like many nonprofit organizations, the library has partnered with area businesses and colleges to help bring costly programs to the public for free. For instance, McDaniel College purchases extra copies of paperbacks for the library's annual "On the Same Page" county reading program.

Through the program, the library offers discussion groups of a featured book -- this year the selection is Ava's Man by Rick Bragg -- as well as related educational programs.

The summer reading program draws about 11,000 children who read hundreds of books based on a theme, attend special programs and win prizes.

"We have a lot of Web pages we redesigned for our kids' page last year and we're redesigning our main home page," Wisner said.

Last year, the library put together a planning committee to look at the system's strengths, weaknesses and needs in the next five years.

"The library is always about serving its customers, the residents of Carroll County, and sees itself as the primary information provider," said Joyce Muller, former library board of trustees president and member of the planning committee.


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