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What's Up Magazine

The Annapolis Regional Library: From the State House to West Street

Jan 23, 2017 02:49PM ● By Cate Reynolds

Anniversary Article Series: We revisit a few of our favorite articles from the 20-year archive of What’s Up? Media

This month, we offer excerpts from “What’s New at the Library?” written by Karen McLaughlin and first published in the September 2007 issue of What’s Up? Annapolis. It begins with a brief historical recap of the Annapolis Regional Library, then moves into the contemporary endeavors of the Anne Arundel County Public Library system. Though the statistics, material references, programs, and personnel mentioned herein have likely changed, the text provides insight to the inner workings of the Anne Arundel County Public Library system.

In the late seventeenth century, when Maryland’s capital was named Anne Arundel Town, its namesake, the future Queen Anne, was delighted enough by the Church of England’s idea to establish parochial libraries in the British Colonies that she gave 44 pounds to the Rev. Thomas Bray. He was commissioned with establishing Annapolis’ first library.

On September 24, 1696, the Provincial Assembly decided to house the new library at the new State House. But in 1704 when the State House burned, the books found a new home in the King William School, which was later joined with St. John’s College.

The first collection was worth 350 pounds and each book was adorned with the name of the library on its cover—in Latin: “Sub Auspicius Wilhilmi” on the front and “Biblioteca Annpolita” on the back. The library was one of the first lending libraries in the British colonies. The collection, of which only 211 books still remain, is mainly stored in the humidity-controlled vaults of the Maryland State Archives.
Two teen patrons check out books at the North County library branch in Harundale in 1971. Photo courtesy of AACPL
In the past century years, the library has served its patrons in some unusual places. From its beginning in a small room on the second floor of City Hall in 1921 to its current West Street location and fourteen other branches, the modern Anne Arundel County Public Library has traversed both town and county. Between 1934 and 1936 the library was housed inside the old Annapolis High School building on Green Street. In 1936 it was relocated to Reynolds Tavern on Church Circle. African Americans, however, were restricted from using its resources due to racial segregation. In 1940 a branch opened on Clay Street, in the College Creek Terrace community.

The first local bookmobile began to travel the county’s roads in 1947. The vehicle, a light gray-blue van, carried approximately 1000 books. It delivered them to various locations throughout the county, including eight schools, fifty-five neighborhoods, and the Crownsville State Hospital. The van made three or four trips a week.

Reynolds Tavern served as the central headquarters until 1976, when the library’s central office became the third building in Government Park on Harry S. Truman Parkway off Riva Road.

In order to provide space for computers and additional items, some librarians and patrons think that the West Street branch should be doubled. In May 2007 $100,000 was appropriated by the County to fund two studies that will look into renovation and expansion options.

Reynolds Tavern served as the library from 1936 to 1976. Photo courtesy of AACPL

What’s New at the Library?

Nearly every day, fifteen buildings countywide become gathering places where an intergenerational mix of county residents goes to study, surf the Internet, do research, or find a captivating novel.

That’s quite a contrast to the very first Annapolis Regional Library, which opened in 1921. Consisting of only 2,000 books and housed in City Hall on Duke of Gloucester Street, it was open Tuesday and Thursday afternoons and Saturday mornings. In the short span of 86 years, our library system, now known as Anne Arundel County Public Library (AACPL), has grown to serve approximately 250,000 active borrowers, giving them access to the organization’s collection of nearly 1 million items. A larger number, roughly 75 percent of the county’s population, holds library cards. Homebound residents of all ages can also check materials out through Library By Mail, a program that delivers materials to their doorsteps for free.

While in 1921 library cardholders went in to borrow books, today’s patrons are using computers; reading newspapers and magazines; and borrowing DVDs, books on tape, and CDs.

How is there enough space to house all those different types of audiovisual materials? Thousands of new books are published every year. With a collection of more than one million items, how does the library manage to avoid running out of shelf room? Librarians systematically review and remove books that are outdated, are in bad condition, or haven’t been borrowed for a long time. The library also keeps tabs on the condition of its CDs and DVDs.

“Weeding is part of an overall collection development program,” says Susan Schmidt, head of materials management. “We are constantly taking old books off the shelf because they are in poor shape or haven’t been checked out.”

According to Schmidt, there are three reasons to get rid of a book: its condition, its information, and its usage. If a book is torn or dirty or contains out-of-date information, especially in areas like medicine and law, it is a candidate for elimination. If a book hasn’t been checked out in the last 12–24 months, Schmidt and branch managers take a closer look to see why. If the book just generates very little interest, it might be sent out of the library’s collection.

“Generally, if no one is reading it, why keep it if you can get it somewhere else?” says Schmidt. She points out that patrons can use the library’s Marina program, an interstate library borrowing program that searches libraries from all over the state, to find a particular book. The program includes books loaned from the Enoch Pratt Free Library, the central library of Baltimore City’s public library system. The Enoch Pratt Free Library is the Maryland State Library Resource Center, and unlike AACPL, is considered a research library.

But each of Anne Arundel County’s library branches has a classics section with more than 300 titles, and Schmidt maintains that the classics will never go out of style.

“Important books to the library’s collection, such as classics, will be replaced with newer copies,” she says.

When considering which materials to add to AACPL’s collection, Hayes says that librarians look at library trade journals and patron requests. To keep pace with patron demand and relevance of nonfiction materials, the library adds approximately 150,000 items to its collection every year.

Miss Esther King at the wheel of the library’s first bookmobile in front of Reynolds’ Tavern. The program, started in 1947, stopped at 8 schools, 55 neighborhoods, 1 church, Crownsville Hospital, and 2 homes of individual patrons. Photo courtesy of AACPL


Moby Dick and Movies Too

Some of AACPL’s most exciting new acquisitions are no longer bound in traditional book format, but are on line as electronic books or audiobooks to download into your computer or portable listening device.

In addition, DVD-quality video programs have arrived at AACPL. The My Library DV system offers approximately 400 free educational programs you can download and view on your own computer (provided your software and hardware meet the system’s technical requirements), many of them from PBS, on topics such as travel and cooking. Soon, Julia Child will be joined by Julia Roberts. AACPL will add more than 400 feature films from recent years, a category titled Hollywood Favorites, to the collection.

The Time Machine

If you go to the library to do research, you can use electronic databases to search vast amounts of information. With computers at every branch, patrons can access encyclopedias, scholarly journals, and even newspaper archives, from yesterday’s Capital to the historic New York Times. If you are more interested in your family’s past you can use genealogy databases. Need help working a computer and navigating the Internet? A friendly librarian is there to help patrons in need of assistance. The Ask Us Now program is an online chat with a librarian. Twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, you can ask a question about how to find a particular resource. Chats after business hours are often with librarians from other areas of the country.

New Annapolis Regional Library in 2019

The new Annapolis Regional Library redefines what a library can be, bringing a 21st century library to the county. The new 32,500 square-foot facility will replace the 51-year-old library on the same site. Its innovative design nearly doubles the available public space. Demolition of the existing building is scheduled for fall 2017 and the new library is planned to open in early 2019.

After input from the community and key constituents, the library staff, architects, and design team are addressing the needs of residents by including features in the new building such as: more meeting room space, a teen zone, an increased children’s area and play porch, outdoor space, vending café, tinker area, quiet room, community living room with comfortable furniture, tech zone, and collaborative workspaces for small groups.

The beloved books, CDs, DVDs, and magazines will also be more prominently displayed in easier to reach shelves.

To follow the progress of the $24 million project and learn more visit

AACPL Expansions Elsewhere

Officials for AACPL announced last June that the Anne Arundel County Council approved proposed increases in funding for the library system. As part of his budget presentation, County Executive Steven R. Schuh included the following enhancements:

  • $1 million increase in the library’s materials budget phased in over the next three years
  • $350,000 for repairs and renovations to library facilities
  • $180,000 for the creation of a new facilities master plan
  • $225,000 to open the Severn Community Library on Sundays from September–May and for improvements to the branch resulting from recommendations by the county’s Local Development Council (LDC), which advises the County Executive on the needs of communities surrounding the Maryland Live! Casino and the expenditure of video lottery terminal funds.

The County Council approved the funding increases at their June 2016 meeting, as well as the continued construction funding for the new Annapolis and Riviera Beach libraries.

“We are grateful for the action taken by the County Council and for the support of the County Executive and Local Development Council,” said Library CEO Hampton “Skip” Auld. “The people of Anne Arundel County will benefit tremendously by the increases in funding and enhancements to our Severn Library,” he added.