This month, the nation celebrates “Read Across America,” a national initiative begun in 1998 by the National Education Association to encourage young readers to find the joy in reading! 2021 also happens to be the centennial of our beloved library system, the Anne Arundel County Public Library (AACPL).
According to reports, Eliza Suydam, the very first librarian, was “reportedly the quintessential old maid librarian who whipped out her cane to admonish noisemakers.” Image courtesy of Anne Arundel County Public Library (AACPL).
Annapolis launched its first public library downtown on January 21, 1921, open three days a week, two hours a day. It charged borrowers ten cents for an ID card that allowed them to check out books from its more than 2,000-volume collection of books—donated by local churches and civic organizations—for two weeks. According to the book, Annapolis: City on the Severn: A History, author Jane W. McWilliams describes the county’s first librarian, Eliza Suydam, as “reportedly the quintessential old maid librarian who whipped out her cane to admonish noisemakers.” Suydam, who collected a $25 per month salary, retired in 1937 after leaving a legacy that survives to this day, with the library’s staff intranet named in honor of this taskmaster of quiet.
A book-mobile supplied books to children across Anne Arundel County. Image courtesy of AACPL.
History of the AACPL
Foot traffic in the county’s first library by 1923 yielded an average of 100 books a day circulating among the city’s reading population. One of the first public libraries in town was actually housed at Reynolds Tavern located on Church Circle. Now known for it's tea parlor and outdoor dining patio, it was once home to the Annapolis Library. The Farmers Bank of Maryland deeded the property to the Public Library Association of Anne Arundel County from 1939-1974. You can now enjoy a pint where patrons once sat by the fire and read a book! Today, the county library system, spanning 16 locations county-wide from Linthicum in the north to Deale in the south, serving more than 1.3 million customers in fiscal year 2020, would be practically unrecognizable to those first patrons. It’s decidedly not your grandparents’ or even your parents’ library anymore.
A woman sits by the fire in Reynolds Tavern in their Library Reading Room. Image courtesy of AACPL.
Gone is the old-time centrally located wooden chest of drawers that constituted the card catalog using the Dewey Decimal Classification (or “System,” as it was more universally known) to catalog the book holdings of all libraries since 1876. Today, the modes of reading have changed, too, much to the chagrin of those who still relish the “feel” of a real book in their hands. The changes, however, have proved to be powerful tools, both to entice and enhance the experience of the typical reader of today, no matter the preferred mode or device.
Library Fines are Waived
Perhaps the biggest and most welcome news came recently in an announcement from library officials that the system has waived $361,425 in delinquent fines imposed for late book returns, surprising more than 28,000 patrons. Library CEO Skip Auld pointed out that this gesture acknowledges fines to be “a barrier that disproportionately impact people without a means to pay.”
AACPL libraries can provide mobile WiFi hot spots to patrons free of charge! Image courtesy of AACPL.
One particular highlight for the library system over the past year was the opening, just in time for the library centennial, of the dazzling newly erected Michael E. Busch Annapolis Library on West Street. It’s the centerpiece of the county library system, named after the late former Speaker of the Maryland House of Delegates, a bibliophile himself and a champion of literacy and education throughout his years of public service.
For the remainder of this month, the library system’s new crown jewel will host “Virtual Instant Pot Cooking: Family Meals,” an especially pertinent topic as we continue to live under the shadow of the Covid-19 pandemic, on Thursday, March 11 at 7:00 p.m. Also scheduled are an Afternoon Book Club on Tuesday, March 16 at 2:00 p.m., “Prepare and Share Virtual Cookbook and Recipe Club: Tapas, Small Plates, and Mezzes” on Thursday, March 18 at 7:00 p.m., “Memory Becomes Us: Visual Art and Poetry” on Wednesday, March 24 at 2:00 p.m., and “We Sing and Dance,” which promises to “get your wiggles out” on Friday, March 26 at 11:30 a.m.
The newest jewel in the ACPL crown is the Michael E. Busch Library in Annapolis. Image courtesy of AACPL.
One novel way the library system is celebrating the centennial this year is its “$100 for 100 Years Campaign,” which invites library patrons to support the system with a gift donation of $100, which will ensure your name will be listed at your favorite branch on a special 100-year celebration plaque and you will be automatically invited to a Century Celebration held at your local branch in early 2022.
Over the course of the centennial year, patrons have been invited to share their fondest memories of the public library system in the county. Recently, “Jane S.” from Severna Park related the following testimonial that sums up what libraries are all about:
I've loved libraries since I was a little girl growing up in a small town in Northern Ireland. Back then, books were my escape from the terror of “The Troubles” tormenting my country. I read every Enid Blyton and L. M. Montgomery book I could get my hands on.
I immigrated to the United States in 1987 and moved to Maryland after college. The Severna Park Community Library is my branch. I love it there! The staff is incredibly friendly and knowledgeable. I started taking my kids to the library from babyhood. My love of reading led me to get involved in literacy work, and now, I am on the staff at the Anne Arundel County Literacy Council.
Our network of volunteers provides free tutoring to low-income adults who want to improve their reading, earn a GED (graduate equivalence), or learn to speak English. When libraries are open for visitors, our tutors meet with students for sessions at any one of the 16 AACPL branches. The library has been central in my life for more than 40 years, and it is vital in our communities — Thank You!
Being a library card-holder in Anne Arundel County is the best deal in town (it’s free!), and the extensive benefits of library membership are too abundant to list here. For more information and to celebrate this milestone with AACPL, visit their website: www.aacpl.net