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Talbot County’s 92-Year-Old Treasure: The Talbot County Free Library moves into the future while preserving the past

Nov 27, 2017 01:00PM

The Talbot County Free Library in Easton has 30,000 library card holders in a town of 38,000.

By Anne McNulty // Photography provided by the Talbot County Free Library.

In October 2015, Talbot County celebrated the 90th birthday of one of its most treasured institutions—the Talbot County Free Library. Far from being a dinosaur in our rapidly changing technological society, it’s an integral part of the community.

The story begins in 1925, when a retired Enoch Pratt librarian, Caroline Burnite Walker, moved back to Easton and to her great chagrin discovered that it didn’t have a library. Scoffing at the critical comments that a library wasn’t needed, she was determined to create one and create one she did.

After raising $4,149, her committee rented two rooms in what’s now the Tred Avon Building on Washington Street. She then opened the doors in October, 1925 with a collection of 800 books, a telephone, and a typewriter.

Imagine her today—walking into Easton’s newly renovated library and standing still in amazement as she gazes at the light-filled main room, with its windows, skylights, and glass wall.

Stacks filled with books, periodicals, and A.V. materials are waiting for her to peruse them, and comfortably positioned easy chairs beckon her to sit and relax.

In another area of the room, patrons intent on their tasks, sit at the library’s computers—machines she’d never have envisioned.

Her greatest delight, however, as one of the first children’s librarians, would be walking into the spacious children’s area and watching children’s librarian, Rosemary Morris, work with the little ones.

Opening the door to one of the meeting rooms, she might hear an author reading from their latest book, or noted librarian, Bill Peak, discussing the book, All American Boys. Certainly she’d love the children’s puppet shows and enjoy the Frederick Douglass Day celebration.

Stepping into the library’s Maryland Room, she’d marvel at one of the best collections of historical material in the State of Maryland. How proud she’d be today to realize that she’s a part of that history.

Caroline Burnite Walker founded the Talbot County Free Library in October, 1925.


The Library at Work

The library’s Assistant Director, Scotti Oliver, has been here for almost 30 years with no plans to retire.

“I came in when the card catalogue was still in existence,” she says. Now the library offers online resources 24/7 and a huge variety of data bases. It also offers free, online interactive courses to assist individuals with learning new skills. Those interested in learning a new language can access the Rosetta Stone language courses on their internet devices. And for harried parents, the new preloaded electronic launch pads for children can give them an hour or two of peace with no worries about internet accessibility or questionable content.

“We have over 30,000 library card holders out of a population of 38,000,” Oliver says. The circulation desk checks out hundreds of pieces of material a day and when the building is closed, we’re still open.”

Oliver stresses how important their collection of 140,000 books and audio books still is—even in this technological age. “Books can last for hundreds of years and are so important in the preservation of knowledge,” she explains.

Along with Dana Newman, the library’s new director, they continue to partnership with many community organizations and to be a hub of Talbot County.

Preserving the Past

Librarian, Becky Riti, walks into the Maryland Room after a morning at Professor Kenneth Carroll’s home, who is a Quaker scholar and noted historian. Riti has been helping him gather historical records and memorabilia that he’s donating to the library.

She’s been in charge of the Maryland Room for nine years and plans to work many more. In addition to being a valuable help to researchers, she catalogs donations, and organizes collections. “We have wonderful print collections and we store our collection of photos in climate controlled vaults.”

Old Maryland newspapers dating from the 1700s are on microfilm and thousands of pieces of information are placed in the vertical files. Then there’s the many books resting on the shelves. “I like to make the records precise and user friendly,” she says. “And we use new technology to preserve all this old information.”

She remarks that James Michener, author of Chesapeake, did much of his of research here and after finishing his book, he donated his manuscript to the Maryland Room.

Hardly the stereotypical librarian, she’s a former gymnast who helped to organize committees for the Olympic gymnastics. Fluent in five languages, she also helped to translate for the Executive Committee of the International Gymnastics Federation.

These days, however, she’s perfectly content working at the library.


St. Michaels Branch

The library in St. Michaels is smaller version of the Easton Branch. Behind the circulation desk, however, is a plaque on the wall honoring Elizabeth Carroll who began the library here. Formerly, the director of the Talbot County Free Library, she wanted a separate library in St. Michaels, which at that time, had only a bookmobile stop.

After retiring, she immediately went to work to establish a branch in this town. After obtaining some funding and recruiting volunteers, she was able to get a long, narrow space in a building on Talbot Street. This library, run entirely by volunteers, included Mrs. Carroll who continued to render her services until she turned 85. She died a year later.

Her daughter, Betty Dorbin, is now one of six staff employees at this branch, which also has 16 volunteers. (Ninety volunteers at both branches.) “We couldn’t do it without our volunteers,” says Shauna Beulah, branch manager. “They are our treasure.”

One of those treasures is Janet Dickey who’s been at the Easton library since 2003—almost longer than anyone else. Every Thursday morning, she’s behind the circulation desk where she chats with the patrons as she checks out their books. “I enjoy sharing my love of books with others,” she says.

Once a month, she brings her cream-colored poodle, Latte, to the library where he listens to children read to him. “It calms the children and makes them less apprehensive about reading orally,” she says.

How long does she plan to volunteer? “Until I can’t do it anymore.”

Still there will always be a library.