April 12, 2016

Friday, July 6, 2012

Poetry Friday: Lauding Librarians

Last week, some poetry friends and I were invited to read at College Park Community Library.
Poet Danuta E. Kosk-Kosicka listens to readers on June 25.
College Park is a big town in central Maryland. It's the central hub of University of Maryland. Go Terps! But College Park was missing something. Its own public library.

Here in Maryland, we do everything by county system. We have countywide schools and countywide library systems. College Park is in Prince George's County, which does have library branches. But author Joseph Smith thought it would be great to have a free lending library -- even a small one -- in his own town.
That's Joseph, the intrepid librarian, way in the back!
Photo: Danuta E. Kosk-Kosicka and Andrzej Kosicki

So, he started one. Early this year, College Park Community Library was born. It is a tiny public library, housed in the basement of a local church.

I asked Joseph to visit and tell us how the library got started.  Here are Five Questions for College Park Community Library's Joseph Smith.

Hi, Joe!

1. When did you realize College Park had no public library? What motivated you to do something about it?

I've been aware that College Park (CP) lacked a public library for a while (I moved here in 1998). To be honest, though, I don't think it's ever been a real "problem" facing the community. The Beltsville, Greenbelt, and Hyattsville libraries are all nearby. What is a problem, I would argue, is the general lack of places devoted to the arts and culture in CP, or even places where members of the immediate community can go to get out of the house for a while without getting into a car. The library was created to meet all of these types of needs, which is why, in addition to books, we open the place up for meetings, have events like film screenings and readings, and so on.

In addition to that, and on a personal level, I'm a fan of books -- real, physical, paper-based books -- and I feel very strongly that, in our techno-seduced culture, it's important for people to get away from screens and disconnect for a while. Books make that possible and I wanted to help create a place that would encourage such  "unplugged-ness."

2. When I visited with other poets, you told us that once you and friends had the proposal put together, the library came together very quickly. Can you tell us about that process -- what it took to start the library up?

Well, there wasn't really any formal proposal. When I got the idea in August  2011, I threw it out on a neighborhood e-mail list and people seemed into it. However, I wasn't going to start it if I couldn't find a space for it, so I put the word out about that too. In response, a handful of people suggested that I talk to the pastor at the Church of the Nazarene, which is interested in providing services to the community. I sort of knew the pastor and his wife -- our kids when to the same preschool -- so I made an appointment to speak with him. In preparation for the discussion, I came up a little sales pitch that I hoped would bring him and the church on board. I didn't need it. After I said the words, "I want to start a community library," he said, "Let's do it!" and then he showed me the room that has since become the library.

The room had a lot of junk in it and the walls were a nasty green color, so I spent a few nights there cleaning it out. In the meantime, I put the word out on that same e-mail list about needing some volunteers. A few brave souls answered the call, including Ms. Jackie Kelly, who has since become my chief colleague and is the library's current director. So me, Jackie, and another volunteer named Dave, spent a few weeks painting. Then we started to put the word about book donations. By the time we finished painting, we had about 20 boxes of books. To get more, we held a "donation day," which netted us about 800 or so books. Then we started sorting though the books, organizing the nonfiction by subject and the fiction by author. Soon it was time to buy shelves, which we did via the local University of Maryland surplus store. Once we had everything on the shelves, we then put (what we call) "shelf tags" on all the books so we would know where they went when they came back. We were going to catalog them at the same time, but we were having computer trouble, so we decided to tag the books and then open our doors to the public. Tagging took a hellishly long time, but we got it done by mid-February (2012) and then opened officially on Feb. 22. All the while, book donations kept coming in as word about the library began to spread (they're still coming in), but we just folded them into the work flow. Initially, I was worried that we wouldn't have enough books. Later, I was worried that we wouldn't have enough shelves, so it's been a balancing act, largely because, at that time, we financed everything ourselves and none of us are rich (we have since received a grant from the city). Now, we're in the process of entering our catalog into a database (we're using free library management software I found online and then learned how to use), which is far worse than affixing shelf tags.

Joe at the librarian's desk. Photo: Danuta E. Kosk-Kosicka and Andrzej Kosicki.
3. What kinds of reactions do you get from people when they visit for the first time?
The people who come to visit are typically very supportive of what we've done and often amazed that just a handful of people did all the work that was required to bring the library together. That said, I need to say that we have a great team of volunteers and that maintaining the library would be impossible without them.

4. You are taking book donations. What are a few of the most weird, wonderful and surprising things in your circulation?
Well, those are subjective terms, so I'm hesitant to say what's wonderful. In regard to weird, I donated about 2/3rds of my personal library and I had a lot of "off-beat" books, so it's likely that a lot of the weirder stuff was mine. For example, we have an amazing array of books on anarchism. Other strong sections of the library include our philosophy and religion sections, and our fiction section, which has a wide array of classic literature (way more than the customary Jane Eyre and Frankenstein), as well as more modern/postmodern stuff, like a complete set of Italo Calvino's work.

5. The library opened in February. You already have a bi-monthly reading series -- a great resource for local authors. What else is in the works for College Park Community Library?
We've had a film screening (and hope to do more of that), we have story time for kids twice a week, as well as other programs geared toward kids, we have a community group that meets there monthly, we've been in talks with folks from Prince George's Park and Planning to have a seniors' book group, and we've had some "meet the author" events, where local writers come and present their work. That said, we've yet to become the community hub that I hoped we'd be, but we're working on it. We're always open to new ideas so if anyone reading this is interested in having us host an event, we're interested.

Thanks for visiting, Joe. Readers, if you're in Maryland, stop by the library and check it out.

In addition to his librarian duties and community activism, Joseph publishes a non-fiction 'zine called The Aardvark.

And here is a library poem by Julia Donaldson, Waterstone's children's poet laureate in the U.K.

Library Poem
Everyone is welcome to walk through the door.
It really doesn't matter if you're rich or poor.
There are books in boxes and books on shelves.
They're free for you to borrow, so help yourselves.

Come and meet your heroes, old and new,

From William the Conqueror to Winnie the Pooh.
You can look into the Mirror or read The Times,
Or bring along a toddler to chant some rhymes.

The librarian's a friend who loves to lend,

So see if there's a book that she can recommend.
Read that book, and if you're bitten
You can borrow all the other ones the author's written.

Are you into battles or biography?

Are you keen on gerbils or geography?
Gardening or ghosts? Sharks or science fiction?
There's something here for everyone, whatever your addiction.

Today's Poetry Friday party is happening at The Opposite of Indifference. Tabatha is a Marylander and I know she'll be excited about the new library in College Park. Stop by her blog for the latest poetry posts.


Michael Ratcliffe said...

Hi Laura,

One slight correction to your post-- College Park is in Prince George's County, not Montgomery. Just thought I'd mention that so outraged readers of your blog don't start petitioning the wrong county for a library in College Park.

Mike Ratcliffe

Author Amok said...

Thanks for the info mike. Can you tell I'm not a native Marylander?

Michael Ratcliffe said...

Yes, as a matter of fact, I could. In my life as a Census Bureau geographer, I spend a fair amount of time explaining to data users the differences between the city- and town/township-based geography of the Northeast and Midwest and the county-based geography south of the Mason-Dixon line. I love all the quizzical, confused, utterly amazed comments I get when I tell them we have no municipalities in Howard County. They can't imagine how anything gets done.

Tabatha said...

What a wonderful effort! I hope it thrives. *round of applause*

Robyn Hood Black said...

What initiative! If I lived closer, I'd come volunteer. Terrific story, Laura, and cheering to read in this day and (electronic) age. Thanks for sharing!

Mary Lee said...

Hooray for libraries, no matter how small!

Tara @ A Teaching Life said...

That is a great story! It just shows what faith and perseverance and community support can accomplish. I also like the fact that there is quite a large-ish section devoted to both anarchy as well as the classics. A wonderful combination!

Author Amok said...

Thanks, all. It's a neat little library. I love Joe's can-do attitude. He seems both surprised and pleased that his idea became reality so quickly!

Violet N said...

Love this library project and the poem you found to fit with it. The interview + the poem make a dynamic duo!