Libraries are places of learning—from the first classroom for babies and toddlers to the “People’s University.” Across all ages, learning methods and ideologies, Baltimore County Public Library continues to strive to reach more people, make more connections and provide opportunities to ensure equity in education.
Whether it is planning for retirement, buying a home or repairing credit, we partner with nonprofits to provide the education and information our community needs to make the best choices. The Adult and Community Engagement department partnered with organizations like the United States Securities and Exchange Commission, Maryland REALTORS professional association and the CASH Campaign of Maryland to offer a variety of programming to provide customers with the information needed to make sound financial decisions at any age. Programs included Smart Investing for Older Americans, Safeguard Your Retirement and Home Selling for Seniors for people nearing or in retirement. Other programs, such as the Home Buying programs and Financial Fitness Bootcamp, a comprehensive personal finance series of classes covering budgeting and credit use and repair, benefited adults of any age.
In Spring 2018, Baltimore County Public Library and Enoch Pratt Free Library debuted a new series, Entrepreneur Academy. The series was developed through surveys and focus groups, and working with nonprofits and government agencies. Taught by librarians and instructors from the Small Business Development Center and CASH Campaign of Maryland, this seven-week class series was geared towards the new or novice small business owner. Participants learned market research and business strategies, financial recordkeeping and taxes and how to develop a business plan. The first 52 graduates reported that they felt more confident, knowledgeable and had more resources to start their own businesses.
FY19 marked the seventh year of the Battle of the Books partnership between Baltimore County Public Library and Baltimore County Public Schools. More than 675 students in grades 4 through 8 read 10 pre-selected books through clubs at their schools and built teams to compete in the Battle of the Books trivia competition. All 19 library branches worked with 61 elementary and middle schools to host 18 competitions, where over 1,300 people watched the students compete for prizes. Battle of the Books not only encourages children to read, but also to engage with the book they’re reading and talk about it with friends, teachers and librarians.
Libraries are evolving to meet the needs of the community. While proud of its heritage, the library is focused on new services and technologies to provide the resources and opportunities for succeeding in the 21st century. Revamped spaces are designed to encourage community connections and learning in new ways, while marketing and outreach opportunities bring library services beyond the buildings and out into communities.
At the Perry Hall Branch, sensory-friendly programming and equitable access for all has become a defining focus, featuring monthly inclusive programming such as Sensory Social for Teens and Sensory Story Time Saturdays. In FY19, the Perry Hall Branch, assisted by a $1,000 grant from the Foundation for Baltimore County Public Library and a matching grant from the Friends of the Perry Hall Library, established a sensory safe space, dubbed the Sensory Exploration Zone. Located in the Children’s Area, the Zone offers a permanent, judgement-free space where customers with sensory needs—particularly elementary age children—can engage socially while feeling comfortable using the library’s resources. Featuring sensory wall panels that incorporate fine or gross motor skill activities, floor cushions, bubble tubes, low-level lighting and active sitting stools, the Zone has been met with overwhelming approval from customers. Staff have noted that it’s increasingly become a hub for visiting special needs groups of all ages.
In Fall 2018, Baltimore County Public Library won a competitive grant from the Maryland State Library (MSL) to fund the production of a space-themed augmented reality story trail. Library staff worked with author and illustrator Kevin Sherry and the Space Telescope Science Institute to create 15 panels about elements of our solar system. The augmented reality holograms and animation were created by BaltiVirtual. The panels are on display at the Benjamin Banneker Historic Park and Museum and the Oregon Ridge Nature Center. The digital files for the panels have been made available to public libraries in Maryland, and have been displayed in other counties. Funding for this grant was provided to MSL by the Institute of Museum and Library Services.
The library launched a multi-faceted 3D printing strategy this year. Customers are able to upload digital files on the library’s website for staff to print for a small fee. If they’d rather have more control of the process, they can schedule a personal certification appointment and learn how to use 3D printers. Once certified, customers can use the printers available at Randallstown and Rosedale for no charge. All branches are able to borrow 3D printers to use for public programs; 14 such programs were held in FY19.
Libraries are the village green, committed to nurturing a thriving and inclusive community. Libraries provide equal access, intellectual freedom, safe and welcoming gathering spaces for community members to connect, learn and succeed.
In partnership with the CASH Campaign of Maryland, the Randallstown Branch was the site of a full-time Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) site. From January through April 2019, approximately 1,033 tax returns were filed, including 70 tax returns from previous years. More than $1.6 million in federal and state refunds were processed, with an average refund of $1,594. Funded in part by community grants from PNC Bank and Wells Fargo Bank and with additional support from the Foundation for Baltimore County Public Library, VITA offers free tax help to people who generally make $55,000 or less, persons with disabilities and limited English speaking taxpayers who need assistance in preparing their own tax returns.
Since October 2018, the Baltimore County Department of Health has held 10 free Narcan trainings at eight branches. During the events, 117 participants have learned what an opioid is; how to recognize, respond to and prevent an opioid overdose; and how to administer intra-nasal naloxone to reverse an overdose. Participants received a certificate of completion and a kit containing naloxone, the prescription medicine that reverses an opioid overdose.
Vision to Learn is an organization that provides eye exams and glasses for children. Baltimore County Public Library hosted Vision to Learn at 12 of our branches over 20 days during the summer. The eye doctors gave exams to 236 children and provided glasses to 106 before the school year began. Hosting this program at the library means that 106 children in Baltimore County are able to read and learn with fewer obstacles throughout the school year.
The Randallstown Branch hosted its fourth annual social justice forum in November. FY19’s theme of "Turning the Tables: Reclaiming the Power of Hip Hop" consisted of two parts at two branches. A panel discussion at the Randallstown Branch featured professionals in the fields of mental health, education and the music industry. It explored the positive ways that hip hop is being used in the community in the areas of mental health, education and activism. This year, the forum expanded to include activities for teens at the Woodlawn Branch where rapper Komplex taught teens to incorporate social justice issues in their poetry and rhymes.
Teens at the Woodlawn and Rosedale branches joined Be Involved, a service club that connects young people with community organizations. Over 40 teens participated, meeting weekly after school to make jewelry and shirts for The Araminta Freedom Initiative, pet toys for The Baltimore Humane Society, craft kits for Sarah’s Hope Family Shelter and planters for Meals on Wheels. This project was made possible in part by the Institute of Museum and Library Services, grant # RE-95-17-0068-17, in the Laura Bush 21st Century Librarian Program.
Woodlawn’s fourth annual Teen Jobs Fair, coordinated by the Woodlawn, Randallstown and Owings Mills branches, was held at Woodlawn High and saw about 450 attendees. Teens were able to speak to employers and apply for job openings. Several applicants were hired on the spot after completing job interviews with employers like DRD Pool Management, Inc., Weis and Baltimore County Recreation and Parks.
In Fall 2018, the Woodlawn Branch and the Adult and Community Engagement department collaborated to host Be at the Table, a community engagement event where staff talked with 48 community members over a meal about their aspirations for their community. The goal: listen to what the community says is needed and identify how the library might impact the community. During these conversations staff identified three primary areas of concern where the library could have impact—small business support, police community relations and the collective impact of area neighborhood associations. These areas guided programming decisions throughout the rest of year at the Woodlawn Branch where staff increased small business classes, hosted a teen-police pizza night and convened neighborhood associations.
Libraries celebrate creative and cultural pursuits of all kinds, from fostering the love of reading to showcasing artistic talents and emerging technologies. Community members of all ages come together at the library to learn new skills, share their passions and create bright futures.
What would a library be without author visits? In its fourth year, BC Reads continued to bring authors to our libraries, senior centers and public schools, where more than 800 people participated in 12 author events. New author initiatives launched this year made it possible for readers to interact with both well-known and first-time published authors. In September, New York Times best-selling author Elizabeth Berg visited for our first annual Book Lovers Bash. Almost 80 people enjoyed her presentation in person and virtually. First Editions connects our customers to newly published authors before they hit it big. From popular fiction like Juliet McDaniel’s Mrs. American Pie to nonfiction like Arthur Holland Michel’s Eyes in the Sky, there was an author to meet anyone’s taste in books at First Editions.
The Hereford Branch, known for The Hive, its art and maker center of excellence, hosted the first-ever Staff Art Show in conjunction with Foundation for Baltimore County Public Library. This ticketed after-hours cocktail party featured live music and works of art from over 30 staff members. Art ranging from paintings, photography, jewelry and more was available for sale, with a portion of the proceeds going to the Foundation. Many branch and department staff participated by collectively decorating trays or coasters that were included as part of a silent auction.
The Cockeysville Branch was invited to be a program partner with The Historical Society of Baltimore County (HSBC) for Water/Ways, a traveling Smithsonian Institution exhibition, The exhibit explored the relationship between people and water. Water/Ways was open to the public in the historic Almshouse in Cockeysville for six weeks from May to July. In addition to the exhibit, HSBC had more than 30 partners offering over 70 programs and events around the region. The Cockeysville Branch offered 14 water-themed programs for children and adults in support of Water/Ways.
Fiscal Year 2019 was about establishing our role in the community as we continue to evolve to meet Baltimore County’s needs in the areas of education, economy, equity and engagement. The dedication and ingenuity of our passionate staff helped to create and build collaborative partnerships to achieve greater impact and to enhance the Library’s level of resources, programs and services to improve the quality of life for the more than 830,000 Baltimore County residents and the 10 million visitors to our branches, four bookmobiles and the virtual online branch.