Library celebrates 25 years

Westminster: Circulation at the branch has grown nearly fivefold since its move to its current location in 1980.

Education Beat

News from Carroll County schools and colleges

September 18, 2005|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

On a chilly March morning 25 years ago, more than 500 Westminster residents trekked down Main Street, pushing library carts filled with books, carrying bundles of volumes tied with string and toting tomes in shopping bags.

A 1980 entry in the Library Journal re-created the great book move that began at 7 a.m. and, within hours, transferred about 60,000 items to the new Westminster Library just a few blocks away from the old site.

"People were so excited that they turned out early on the coldest day to move everything from the old building," according to the Library Journal.

Westminster Library today is the busiest of Carroll County's five branches, posting an annual circulation of nearly 1 million items. During its quarter-century on East Main Street, the branch has more than doubled the original number of items and also offers patrons CDs, DVDs and Internet access.

During the silver anniversary celebration last week, patrons looked back at 1980 with trivia and art contests. They joined staff in a family fun day that spread across the landscaped front garden. Children arrived Friday for birthday story time, complete with punch and cake, and a reception filled the library with music.

Attendance exceeded expectations. Carroll's library system, which will soon include a sixth branch in Finksburg, has posted the highest per capita circulation in the state, officials said.

The system traces its founding to 1863, when one library opened only Friday afternoons in the county seat. Funded by membership dues and fines, it operated from various locations through 1949, when the Walter Davis family established an endowment that created a permanent home for books in a former Methodist church. Davis Library opened in 1951 and was, until 1980, when the Eldersburg Library opened, the only option for patrons.

"The atmosphere was like church," said Jennifer Woo, recalling the library of her childhood. "The building had character. You could go back into the shelves to a secret place and you would read with stained-glass windows in the background."

The library kept a church connection. The $1.4 million, one-story brick building was constructed on the former site of St. John Catholic Church, a downtown landmark destroyed by lightning and now located on Route 140.

Many on the library staff can recall the Main Street parade of books to the 40,000-square-foot building that replaced the Davis Library.

"It was a Saturday morning and people carried books in shopping bags or tied in bundles," said Ann Wisner, the system's external relations manager. "It was all accomplished quickly. The staff came in on Sunday to shelve everything." Brenda Conaway, retired after a 30-year career with the library, remembered "a lot of enthusiasm for the new building." While the library was under construction, the staff often visited the building site.

"The architect really responded to our input," Conaway said. "He used our suggestions and really made us part of the project. To help with the move, we encouraged patrons to check out extra bags of books before we closed the Davis Library and to bring them back to the new library."

Volunteers also helped with sorting and shelving so the new library could open within a few days, she said.

Although the new building lacks some of the ambiance of the library-in-a-church, Woo, who home-schools her three children, concedes that it functions better.

"We are here at least once a week and we really like the programs," she said. "The children really know this library. The science programs for them and things for adults are great, and you can't beat 25 cents at the used-book sale."

Grace Woo, 9, a member of the library's junior book club, said, "I like Nancy Drew books, and I know where they all are."

Annual circulation has increased nearly fivefold from 194,533 in 1980 to 952,400 this fiscal year, which ended June 30. Story time, originally scheduled once or twice a week with registration required, runs two or three times a day and allows "drop-ins."

"Story time really gets children into books, which is the goal, and gets them used to coming to the library every week," said librarian JoAnn Beninghove.

When the children's librarian opened the book to begin story time for about 25 toddlers, one child immediately pointed out "the bar code" used by the circulation desk.

The library often doubles as a community center, hosting meetings for various groups and several evening programs for adults.

Most library events started this month with a reminder of the Westminster branch's birthday.

"It's 25," said Grace Woo, who arrived Tuesday with her grandmother, mother and two brothers. "I saw a sign in the window."

To which, Payton Steele replied, "I am newer. I am three and a half."

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