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Annapolis Library to expand in place

Anne Arundel County officials have approved plans to double the size of the Annapolis Library and — here is the best part — keep it right where it is. In my neighborhood.

The library where I took my children for story time will also be the library where I take my grandchildren for story time. The walk to the library when my son first told me he had found the girl he wanted to marry will be the walk I take with their two little boys.

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I am not the only one with sentimental feelings about that 50-year-old building on West Street.

Signs sprouted in lawns in my Germantown-Homewood neighborhood declaring "Library on West is Best," and the crusade had its own website. County Executive Laura Neuman said she had been deluged with emails, and the library board noted "the abundance of community input."

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"We didn't mean to upset anybody," said Hall Worthington Jr., chairman of the county library Board of Trustees, which voted unanimously to keep the library where it is. He said public opinion played a role, but, in fact, there were no other options. Landowners at other sites either refused to sell their property or wanted too much money for it.

"We only have $39 million to work with," said Mr. Worthington. "We didn't want to spend $10 million of that on the land."

The library opened in 1965, and after almost 50 years, it is in need of an upgrade. There is only one official meeting room and there are many community organizations that want to meet there. The demand for the computer terminals is so great you have to put your name on a waiting list.

Germantown Elementary students next door take a walking field trip there to get their first library cards, and some of those students work in the library after school until their parents can pick them up.

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There are story times for babies, toddlers and pre-schoolers. There are science, technology and math events for grade-schoolers, events for teens, book clubs for adults and a knitting group that creates caps for newborns at the hospital.

There are free movies for families on Saturday afternoons, and there is job-search help every Monday. Members of the Boys and Girls Club of Annapolis are there regularly. At tables all around the library tutors can be found working with those who need help with literacy or English.

And all within an easy walk or bike ride for hundreds of families on both sides of West Street, and students from Germantown Elementary and Bates Middle School.

And for more than 30 years, I have been borrowing recorded books for my work commute. Hundreds of them. All free.

The library will nearly double in size to 48,000 square feet and there will 181 parking spaces. It is going to take a while. The library is going to have to rent space somewhere during construction, which might not be complete until 2018 or 2019.

The decision to keep the Annapolis Library where it is must be approved by the County Council and the new county executive, to be elected next week. And property owners on either side of the library entrance off West Street must agree to sell.

But part of the reason why the library board voted to keep the library where it is now is that there are no other options. More than a dozen locations were once on the table. All were unworkable for one reason or another.

I had possession of my grandsons for a day not long ago, and, just as I did when my own were babies and toddlers, we broke up the day with a walk to the library. We read stories, Mikey, almost 4, worked the pint-sized computer and year-old Jack pulled about 50 books off the shelves and onto the floor. (Sorry, librarians!)

Joan Beck, chair of the Annapolis Regional Library Capital Project Committee, talked about what the new library will mean to future generations.

I think she was talking about me, Mikey and Jack.

Susan Reimer's column appears on Mondays and Thursdays. She can be reached at susan.reimer@baltsun.com and @SusanReimer on Twitter.com.

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