At 40, library changes with times

Randallstown branch marks milestone in county service

October 19, 2007|By Jennifer Choi | Jennifer Choi,SUN REPORTER

Bonnie Pogash grew up in Randallstown, and she remembers getting kicked out of the community library about four decades ago as a teenager for giggling too loudly. Today, no one seems to mind a little youthful chatter in the library.

As the Randallstown library marks its 40th birthday this week, some are reflecting on how the community institution has changed over the years.

What started as a trailer with 5,000 books and survived a fire six years ago has emerged with an updated layout and decor, and additional services to meet the needs of a changing clientele.

"We're 40 and, as people say, we look good for our age," said Tamara Rhue, assistant circulation services manager.

"Now it's more spacious, more organized, and they have more interesting items," said Delores Miller-Bland, a Randallstown resident who has been a patron for 20 years.

The 29,000 square-foot library recently expanded its teen section, which has high, cafe-style tables nestled in a corner of the adolescent book section.

An early-literacy center, which allows parents to spend time with their young children while teaching them basics such as shapes and letters, has also been added.

A few years ago, the library began allowing light snacking to accommodate ravenous high school students and parents with small children.

"Back in the day, that would've been frowned upon," said Darcy Cahill, the branch manager.

Pogash, who worked for the county library system, including a stint as a librarian in Randallstown, remembers when the library had more rigid rules.

"The librarians used to walk around saying `shhh' to people," Pogash said. "We never had quiet rooms. Most of the library was quiet."

Construction of the library began in March 1966, and it officially opened Oct. 23, 1967. The project cost $620,000.

The most significant physical changes were made after a fire in 2001 that started in the circulation room and closed the library for almost a year. About 4,000 items were lost, and the library was extensively damaged by smoke.

As a part of the restoration, the library was outfitted with new lighting, ceilings, carpet, service desks and furnishings. The walls were painted brighter colors, and the collections were rearranged to create more open spaces.

"People thought we'd made the library larger because of better lighting, brighter colors and cleaner sight lines," said Cahill, the branch manager.

Over the years, the demographics of the customers have changed. In 1967, the clientele was predominantly white and mostly Jewish, former library officials said. Today, most patrons are African-American, and there is a growing international clientele, librarians said.

"The Randallstown community has become much more diverse, not only racially but with people immigrating from Russia, Hispanic countries and Korea," said Bob Hughes, spokesman for the county library system. "The library has always tried its best to meet the changing needs of the community it serves."

The Randallstown library has developed an emphasis on African-American literature and is continually expanding its offerings for immigrants.

Some things haven't changed over the years. The Randallstown branch, which in 1976 became the first county library to surpass a million books in circulation in a year, remains one of the busiest of the county's 17 libraries.

Last year, the Randallstown branch had the most people signing up to use computers and the most visitors.

"How many people have been helped by the facility in those 40 years?" said James H. Fish, the county library director. "The library has changed so many lives in so many ways."

To celebrate the anniversary week, candy will be given out, DVD rentals will be 2-for-1, and free entertainment will be provided Saturday by Jessie & James, a group that performs comedy, juggling and animal tricks.

Randallstown resident Lanae Norton, 17, said the library has improved.

"I love it. Over the years, they've tried to make it more comfortable. They're attracting more teens and young adults," she said. "I hope it can be around another 40 years."

jenny.choi@baltsun.com

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