Balto. Co.’s town square

An Owings Mills writer sa­vors the pos­si­bil­i­ties as the county li­brary sys­tem pre­pares for a re-brand­ing

Baltimore Sun - - WORLD - Elizabeth Bas­tos, Owings Mills

The Bal­ti­more County Pub­lic li­brary’s most re­cent Date­lines news­let­ter re­ports that “In the next few months, we’ll un­veil a new brand for the BCPL. ... This new di­rec­tion will in­clude more ed­u­ca­tional and out­reach pro­grams ... to bet­ter serve the needs of our com­mu­ni­ties.”

“Un­veil a new brand” is a phrase that would usu­ally give me hives, but in the case of the li­brary, I’m thrilled! I’m giddy! Be­cause I would lit­er­ally do a jig in front of the BCPL if I thought it would in any way help the county’s great, free col­lec­tion of world knowl­edge.

I be­lieve in li­braries. And pro­foundly. They’re un­apolo­get­i­cally spa­ces for ideas to flour­ish and con­nec­tions to be made. In our in­creas­ingly in­tel­lect-jamming cul­ture and seg­re­gated neigh­bor­hoods, li­braries are com­mu­nity mix­ing bowls. In the stacks, story times, lec­tures and book clubs, li­braries bring shared con­ver­sa­tion to peo­ple who would not oth­er­wise in­ter­act.

The li­brary en­cour­ages com­mu­nity and a broad con­cept of “us.” I was re­cently a part of an in­ter­est­ing group of old and young, black and white, men and women brought into the same room be­cause of a li­brary lec­ture on the AfricanAmer­i­can his­tory of Owings Mills. You go to the li­brary to grow. My lo­cal branch of the BCPL, Owings Mills, is in process of trans­form­ing the first floor into an ex­panded chil­dren’s sec­tion. I can’t wait to see what it looks like, hav­ing just spent the sum­mer in Bos­ton and Cam­bridge with my fam­ily, all of us in slack-jawed awe of those ci­ties’ great chil­dren’s li­braries. Whole floors de­voted to the do­main of awe­some chil­dren’s li­brar­i­ans. Mu­rals. Sunny nooks for read­ing. Multilingual story times. Cen­ters for Adult Ed­u­ca­tion. Ger­bils!

Be­cause Bal­ti­more County has so few pub­lic parks and play­grounds, the BCPL branches also serve an im­por­tant func­tion as — in­door — shared pub­lic space, parks and play­grounds for our chil­dren. The li­brary is a fer­tile lim­i­nal space that’s nei­ther home, school, nor sports. It’s a shared pub­lic place for in­for­mal learn­ing, and for play.

Long be­fore they were ed­u­ca­tional buz­zwords, the li­brary rep­re­sented “learn­ing across the life­span,” “maker spa­ces,” Ram Chal­lag­ulla, 7, and Lakshmi Chal­lag­ulla, 6, use pot­ting soil and char­coal in the base of bot­tle planters as part of a "cre­ate a small ecosy­sem in a bot­tle" pro­gram at the Owings Mills branch of the Bal­ti­more County Pub­lic Li­brary. and “project-based learn­ing,” as peo­ple met their neigh­bors, learned to needle­point, and found their fam­ily his­tory through ge­nealog­i­cal re­search.

The BCPL: what it could be! The Owings Mills branch has al­ready changed the tenor of the town of Owings Mills. There’s a cen­ter now. And, in my happy opin­ion, it’s the li­brary. Which is great. Be­cause the li­brary as an in­sti­tu­tion rep­re­sents some of the best of what hu­man­ity can pull off. Knowl­edge. Pub­lic space. Trust.

The for­mer New York City trans­porta­tion com­mis­sioner, Janette Sadik-Khan, sug­gests in her book “Street Fight: Hand­book for an Ur­ban Revo­lu­tion” that suc­cess­ful ur­ban de­sign ac­knowl­edges a com­mu­nity’s need not just for com­merce but for shared pub­lic space. We can do it too, Bal­ti­more County. We can rev­o­lu­tion­ize what it is like to live in the sub­urbs — by fre­quent­ing the newly re­branded mod­ern-day town square: the BCPL.

KEN KOONS/CAR­ROLL COUNTY TIMES

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