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  • Susan Zoller and Portia Bates from MGT of America recently engaged library patrons at Mountain Road about how AACPL can better serve their needs.
    Photo by Dylan Roche
    Susan Zoller and Portia Bates from MGT of America recently engaged library patrons at Mountain Road about how AACPL can better serve their needs.

Mountain Road Library Patrons Offer Input For Future Of AACPL

Dylan Roche
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November 10, 2017

The last time Anne Arundel County Public Library (AACPL) formed a master plan for its future — back in 2011 — it proved to be harder than anyone expected to make that vision a reality.

“That was a very grand plan, for lack of a better word,” said Christine Feldmann, AACPL marketing and communications manager. “It was a plan that was aiming to bring our library system to the forefront in the 21st century, but it didn’t keep in mind some of the budgetary restraints we find ourselves facing.”

Six years later, AACPL has returned to the drawing board to prioritize which changes will best help the system meet its patrons needs — and whom better to ask than the patrons themselves?

Throughout late October and early November, select branches of AACPL held meetings with MGT of America, the same consulting firm that helped shape the master plan for Anne Arundel County Public Schools, at select branches throughout the county. “We were thrilled to have as many people out to our meetings as we did,” Feldmann said.

In advance of these meetings, MGT studied the condition and functionality of all branches, examining roofs, plumbing, heating, building envelope and interiors. Additionally, MGT looked at how well the buildings help staff members deliver programs to the community and examine how well the infrastructure of the building supports technology.

The study reflected that Pasadena’s facilities were in need. Mountain Road Library was assessed at 76.65 percent, an average that was brought down by a roof leak, window shutters rusting, a few stained ceiling tiles, lack of electrical outlets for patron use, lack of fire sprinklers, and restrooms that are not up to standard with the Americans with Disability Act.

Riviera Beach Library was not assessed because it is slated to be rebuilt within two years. “We’re starting the design phase for the Riviera Beach project, and we’re hoping it will open a year after the Annapolis Library,” said Maribel Ibrahim, AACPL facilities and capital project manager. Annapolis Library is scheduled to open in 2018, putting Riviera Beach Library on track to open in 2019.

At the public meetings, MGT representatives Susan Zoller and Portia Bates surveyed community members and held an open forum to gauge what needs patrons had, whether those regarded materials available, hours of operation, programs offered or something else entirely. “It has to be based on your needs and your community issues and ideas,” Zoller told the group at Mountain Road Library’s meeting. “What we’ve found over many experiences is that there’s rarely one solution. We often come up with three or four ways to skin a cat. We want to bring those possible solutions back to the community and give the board the opportunity to decide which solution best meets the needs of the group.”

After surveying the group, Bates and Zoller engaged in open discussion with attendees. Responses ranged from the renewal process to use of space. “What I’m hearing is that there are opportunities to look at the facilities but also some of the systems that may be in place,” Bates observed.

Jennifer Adams, who is not only the manager of the Mountain Road branch but also a frequent patron of the library, explained how digital rentals of audiobooks and e-books expire without any option to renew, which proves to be a hassle if there’s a waitlist for one of the digital copies. “Here I am in the middle of listening to a book, and the book expires — it’s gone,” she said. “So I go back the next day and I have to wait 53 days.”

Another topic of discussion was branch hours. Currently, only the seven larger branches in the library system are open on Sundays, but Wil Colquhoun, a Pasadena resident who also serves on the AACPL board of trustees, made the point that Sunday hours should be spread out based on geography rather than determined by the size of the branch. “There’s two libraries in Pasadena. One of them should probably be open on Sundays,” he said. “Recognizing then you have to add a day’s shift of staff, I get that that’s the problem, but it’s somewhat offensive. Riviera Beach and Mountain Road are smaller, but from here to Severna Park or Glen Burnie is far.”

Attendees agreed that libraries serve an important need as community meeting spaces, but this might require a change in rules. For many years, libraries have discouraged making noise or consuming food. Although rules have become more relaxed, not all patrons or even staff are fully accepting of the changes. Ibrahim suggested having a designated place for people to eat. “It would not necessarily be a place to have food provided, but if I’m doing a paper or something, I can go take a breather and sit in the café and eat a snack, and then go back to the computer or whatever I was doing,” she said.

Colquhoun believes making the library less of a strict silence zone will make it more approachable, particularly for families. “At Riviera Beach and Severna Park [and Mountain Road], I feel like kids can make noise and stuff like that,” he said. “At some of the other ones, I don’t feel that’s the way it is, and my kid’s been shushed, which I wasn’t happy about but other people are using the library and I get it. If we want to promote early literacy, we need to let the kids play. They can’t read yet, but they’re going to pick up books and look at them, and we want to encourage them to be there.”

Although AACPL’s schedule of public meetings has concluded, the survey is still available online through www.aacpl.net until November 9. Patrons can also email comments to facplan@aacpl.net. Preliminary findings will be released later in November, and the final report will be given in December.

“We’re trying to be more of a resource for the community,” Feldmann said. “We’re injecting a lot of technology into our library system, exposing people to new technology, helping people learn about new technology. … In terms of our facility, it’s all on the budget cycle. It may take a while for people to see structural differences.”


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