Balto. Co.’s town square
An Owings Mills writer savors the possibilities as the county library system prepares for a re-branding
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.