The Bel Air branch of the Harford County Public Library is reinventing itself with clever initiatives like the Book Bike.
On a warm and sunny morning in June, I arrive at the library a bit before 10 a.m. (when the library opens), to be pleasantly surprised. Kids and adults are standing in line for books, knowledge, and learning.
We’re accustomed to people waiting in long lines for sneakers, the latest tech gadgets, or concert tickets. But not here – this place is a community hub for spending time together as a family and expanding the minds of the young and old alike.
What brought me here was a novel concept: the Book Bike. I got a glimpse of this marvelous contraption on Facebook as the bike was unveiled at a Bike to Work event in Bel Air, and I just HAD to know more!
The project is led by Stephanie Murphy, the branch manager of the Havre de Grace Library. Modeled after similar book bike concepts in states like California, Colorado, and Nebraska, Stephanie wanted to bring books to the public and make library access for the community easier than ever before. She presented her idea to the HCPL senior staff in the fall of 2017, and less than a year later it has become a reality.
Left to right: Stephanie Murphy, Carly Reighard, Mary Hastler with the Book Bike
The Book Bike is a mobile library which can be shuttled to a variety of events and locations in Harford County. It even has WiFi so that people can sign up for library cards on the spot! It is funded by the Bel Air Friends of the HCPL, which holds a book sale twice a year and donates the proceeds directly to the Bel Air Library.
Mary Hastler, the CEO of HCPL, has been promoting and growing the library system of Harford County for the past eight years. She comes from a business background and runs the library with a business model in mind. For her, the services provided by the library must solve a problem while giving access to education needed within the community. She strives to help people realize that libraries are so much more than just books.
The Bel Air Library was the first in Maryland to receive a 3D printer, graciously donated by Aberdeen Proving Grounds. Free access to the printer allows curious minds to create things from scratch. The library also received the Daily Record’s Innovator of the Year award four times (2013 – Little Leapers program; 2014 – Little Leapers 3.5; 2015 – Innovation Lab; 2017 – Children’s Department).
I toured the Children’s Department with my guide, Carly Reighard, the Juvenile Assistant Branch Manager at the Bel Air Library. I was greeted by a magnificent tree, inspired by Disney’s Tree of Life, which towered above me and stretched its limbs into the library's second floor. Hand-carved by an Italian artist in La Jolla, California, it looks incredibly life-like, with squirrels, birds, and owls hiding in its branches. The children’s section boasts colorful reading nooks and a set-up of a little town -- complete with a post office, train station, and grocery store.
To Mary, the library is a living, breathing entity. She likes to form relationships with its patrons, embodied in her “once you get involved with us, we never say goodbye” motto. The library also has a dedicated marketing & communications administrator, Leslie Greenly Smith, who makes sure the community knows about all the great stuff the library has to offer.
Aside from popular belief that librarians read all day long, running a library leaves little time for that simple pleasure. But Mary shared with me the most recent book she enjoyed: The Endless Beach by Jenny Colgan, which will be on her list of recommended summer reads. I also love Mary's golden rule: if a book doesn’t capture her interest in the first two chapters, she moves on. Those are words to live by for all of us trying to “power through” a boring book!
So, get to know your local library! And if you’re lucky to live in Harford County, there’s no excuse not to make your way to an HCPL branch near you. How often do you visit your library? Have you ever been to the Bel Air Library? What book are you currently reading? Let us know in the comments below!