Maryland libraries offer fun for parents from books at bars to seed swaps

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LibraryFunby Karen Stysley

More and more Maryland parents are realizing that the library is much more than a place to go for books or story times for the kids. Local libraries are stacked with activities, entertainment and community support geared toward adults.

When Joe and Doreen Pagano moved from Florida to Lusby in 2006, they didn't know much about the area: where to go, what to do, or how to have a date night without the kids. The library changed all that for them.

"For us, it was a perfect starting point," Doreen Pagano says.

At the Calvert Library, the Paganos discovered maps to hiking trails and recommendations for day trips to Annapolis as well as a weekly teen night where they could safely leave their kids. The library is still a big part of their lives — and a perfect place to find indoor fun during the winter months.

"I would venture a guess that close to 50 percent of our entertainment comes from the Calvert County library. And we do a lot of stuff," Joe Pagano says.

Their many library exploits include learning about local gardening, playing Mahjong, meeting local authors, attending concerts, learning how to edit digital photos and researching car maintenance online — not to mention feeding their avid reading habits.

Calvert libraries aren't the only Maryland library systems reaching out to adults with programs and activities beyond the book checkout desk.

Providing a range of activities

Even when programs have nothing to do with the written word, they still dovetail with the library's mission, according to Robyn Truslow, public relations coordinator for the Calvert Library.

"Of course we have tons of books. Reading is a big component. Certainly early literacy is a big component," Truslow says, but at the same time, libraries can be meeting places and sources for personal development.

"We believe in transforming people and offering opportunities for lifelong learning," Truslow says.

Librarians in Calvert answer questions and teach classes, but they also organize community seed swapping and music jam sessions.

When libraries first began, Truslow explains, they were a place to access information, which came in the form of books. That is still true today, but now libraries have many more kinds of resources to share.

"Now information is in so many different formats," Truslow says, and libraries have adapted.

Likewise, in the Howard County Library System, "our mission is education," says Christie Lassen, director of public relations. However, that education can take many forms — from infant story times to programs for adults that run the gamut of topics.

For example, on Jan. 7, Baltimore historian and educator Wayne R. Schaumberg will lead a discussion on the Chesapeake region during the War of 1812. And the next day the library finishes a three-part series on Cutting Edge Discoveries in Neuroscience to Boost Your Brain, led by Dr. Majid Fotuhi.

From the library to the barBooksAtBars

The Anne Arundel County Public Library has taken books out of the library and into a less conventional setting: a bar. The Books at Bars monthly book discussion group meets at 1747 Pub in Annapolis. With the wine comes a new crowd of 20s and 30s-somethings who might not otherwise sign up for library programs.

"It's a great way to get them engaged with the library," says Noah Brode, public relations assistant. "Any time we can get people reading — at a library branch or a bar — it's a good thing."

Since September, the monthly events have been really popular, he said. Everybody reads the same book, and then librarians lead discussions at the tables. The unlikely atmosphere may be part of the program's success.

"It's a setting people feel comfortable in, rather than a more stuffy meeting room at the library," Brode says.

Of course, programs inside the library can also be fun — and useful. Those who would like to download an ebook to their phone or search for a job can attend classes that walk them through the process. For those excited about ancestry, Anne Arundel County Public Library offers an "Introduction to Genealogy" class to learn about how to use online research tools, such as one Jan. 13 in Odenton.

Meeting community needs

Anyone hoping to find out what's new and fun at the library can stop by a local branch or check out a library's website. Whether it's finding an event, a group or just a good book, chances are library staff have put together something that meets the need.

"Part of our mission is to be a community meeting place in addition to (providing) lifelong learning opportunities. We can do both," Truslow says.

Click next below to get a sample of activities at area libraries.



A Sampling of Library Activities

In Anne Arundel County:

  • Discover how to start a nonprofit or charitable group Jan. 14.
  • Knit, crochet and have fun with yarn Jan. 20.
  • Learn more about Books at Bars and sign up at meetup.com/books-at-bars

In Calvert County:

  • Swap seeds to plant with others in the community Jan. 24.
  • Sing along with musicians in a song circle/jam session Jan. 28.

In Howard County:

  • Attend a guided meditation session Jan. 6.
  • Chat with other fans of the TV show "Downton Abbey" Jan. 7.

In Queen Anne's County:

  • Join the "Wild Wooly Women" as they knit, quilt and crochet Jan. 7.
  • Talk about a book and enjoy light refreshments Jan. 22.

In Prince George's County:

  • Join the Bowie writers' group "With Pen in Hand" to share ideas and get inspired Jan. 5.
  • Attend a workshop on researching genealogy using free library tools Jan. 14.

In Baltimore County:

  • Meet local author Michael Olesker Jan. 24.
  • "Scrap 'til you drop" with other scrap-bookers Jan. 31.


Library Access at Home

Local libraries offer plenty of ways to stay entertained for free from the comfort of your own home. Look online or ask your local librarian to help you:

  • Borrow e-books and audiobooks to use on your phone or tablet.
  • Get online homework help.
  • Browse online magazines and newspapers.
  • Stream music, movies and TV. Howard County patrons can download three free songs per week.
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