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  • Writer's pictureAmy Tippett

Library Visit #2: Public Library

Updated: Feb 28, 2023

Introduction

Calvert County is in southern Maryland, about 35 miles southeast of Washington, D.C.. Calvert County has a population of 93,929 (U.S. Census Bureau, 2021), and its library system is called Calvert Library. There are four branches plus a mobile services department in Calvert Library.

Calvert Library has more than 199,593 physical items in its collection, according to the fiscal year 2022 annual report released in February 2023. In addition to the physical items, Calvert Library has more than 116,441 electronic books, magazines, and streaming entertainment shows (Calvert Library, 2023).

The Fairview Branch of Calvert Library is in Owings, Maryland, at 8120 Southern Maryland Boulevard. The estimated population within a four-mile ring around the library is estimated to be 16,177 (Providence Associates, 2017).

Tippett, A. (2023, February 13). The exterior of the Fairview Branch of Calvert Libary in Owings, Maryland [Photo].


Digital Access

The Calvert Library website (calvertlibrary.info) is a robust website with branding colors of teal, purple and blue. From the copyright at the bottom of the website, it appears it was last redesigned in 2017. In comparing the website with other area library websites, the Calvert Library website looks dated, but it may be because of the color palette.

Tippett, A. (2023, February 27). Screenshot of the homepage of calvertlibrary.info [Photo].


The website is easy to navigate, and the search feature is prominent in the top right with the option to search either the catalog or the website. The catalog search opens the COSMOS platform, which is the Collection of Southern Maryland's Online Services. COSMOS covers three county library systems – Calvert County, Charles County, and St. Mary's County. COSMOS allows you to sort by type of material, literary form, subject, author, and by branch.

The website and the COSMOS search provide the option of regular text or large text. Perhaps the library should consider changing the term "regular" text to "medium" text to be more inclusive. The website also provides an option to toggle high contrast on and off. The website does not offer any translation services.

There is an "Ask a Question" chatbox which I experimented with. I asked the chat for a recommendation for a book like Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin, and the chatbot sent a link to an article, "10 books like Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow to read next" (Fuggle, 2023). It would have been nice for the chatbox to go one step further and ask if I wanted to see if my local branch library had any of the books available. I was also unsure if I was talking to an individual or a robot. I asked the same question to an AI Chatbot and got a different answer. The article's books aligned more with what I like to read.

The website provides information on various standard library services, including how to get a library card, search features, events and programs, administrative services, and branch locations. One of the main menu toolbar sections is for kids and teens, which I viewed as welcoming to younger patrons. The resources for kids and teens include homework help, book recommendations, and events. The digital resources menu option provides a list of databases available to library patrons ranging from ancestry tools to do-it-yourself manuals.

The homepage picture promotes a Pub Quiz event with a picture of young adults. The upcoming events featured on the homepage is for an event for children under the age of two. As I mentioned, kids and tweens have their section on the main menu toolbar. These features indicate that the library is trying to reach a younger audience and families. I wonder if this is because that is their demographic of patrons or if they hope the website images will bring in new patrons.

The administrative staff is listed on the website with their contact information, including their email addresses, and individual branch managers are also listed. Social media platform links are on the top and bottom of the website page. Their Facebook page has 7,100 followers; Instagram has 1,668 followers; Twitter has 1,678; YouTube has 479 subscribers; Flickr has 43 followers; and TikTok has 1,211. All platforms are frequently used, and their TikTok page is creative, entertaining, and educational.


Physical Space and Accessibility

The former Fairview Elementary School was renovated in 1981 for the opening of the Fairview Branch of Calvert Library (Calvert Library, n.d.). The new library building also housed a law enforcement substation and a county tourism office (Calvert Library, n.d.). The building still very much looks like an elementary school. About 12 parking spaces in the front of the building with accessible parking available. There is also an electric vehicle charging station. Calvert County has a public transportation system, but I assume most people use their cars to visit this branch. There are no bike racks outside, which is good because the library sits on a hectic road that doesn't have a bike lane.

Tippett, A. (2023, February 13). The reading room at the Fairview Branch Library [Photo].

Upon entering the building, a small reading area on the right-hand side with barn wood from a local tobacco farm is on the walls. The signage hung from the ceiling indicates where to find meeting rooms and the library. The walls are lined with DVDs, which is the first indicator that you are in a library setting. It still looks like an elementary school hallway.

There are three meeting rooms off the main hallway which can be reserved either by phone with a librarian, on the library website, or on-site with tablets outside each meeting room.

The library books and seating areas are through another door down the main hallway. The collection is overflowing the space, and there is not much free space for seating. There is a computer station with a few computers, tables and chairs, and a young adult section with three small tables that can be united to make one larger table. There is one computer that is an accessible workstation. The circulation desk and the bookcases are not at an accessible height. The overall feeling is that it is where you come to check out your books and leave. I didn't notice patrons browsing through the books. People were there to use a computer or pick up books on hold.

Tippett, A. (2023, February 13). Interior pictures of areas in the Fairview Branch Library [Photo].


Services and Intellectual Access

The signage in the library is in the Calvert County branded color palette, with the signage purple with white letters. Because of the crowded bookshelves and floor space, it wasn't easy to see the signage. This was my first time in this branch, and the signage was so high toward the ceiling that, at first, I didn't even notice the signage.

The library catalog is available on computers, but I didn't see anyone using them. As I stated earlier, I think people come to the library to pick up books they placed on hold and not to browse the shelves. The library is generally divided into adults, young adults, children's books, magazines, DVDs, and audiobooks. There was also a sign indicating large print books. The library uses the Dewey Decimal system.

The library's main focus seems to be on the children's area because it takes up most of the space. I didn't see any children in the play area, even though it was after school time when I visited. There were a few patrons at the library when I visited, but they were mainly at the computer stations or in line to pick up their books placed on hold.

No one with mobility issues would easily navigate the rows of bookcases because of the library's layout. I also don't think they would be comfortable checking out their books at the circulation desk because of height restrictions.

Since I visited in February during Black History Month, there were several displays of books by Black and African American authors. However, at first glance, other displays of books seemed to need more diverse authors.

Tippett, A. (2023, February 13). Black history month displays in the Fairview Branch Library [Photo].


People (Patrons and Staff Members)

Calvert County is predominately white, with 76.4% identifying as white, 13.7% identifying as African American or Black, 4.8% identifying as Hispanic, and 6.1% identifying as other or two or more races (U.S. Census Bureau, 2021). While visiting the library on three different occasions at different times and days of the week, I saw about ten patrons. I wondered if the person at the circulation desk was a volunteer or a librarian, but she was very friendly and seemed to know each patron by first name.

There are eight librarians, with nearly half being part-time employees (L. Tassa, personal communication, February 13, 2023). The librarians are all white women (L. Tassa, personal communication, February 13, 2023).


Collections

The resources readily available are books, magazines, DVDs, and audiobooks. I was surprised to see so many audiobooks, especially since ebooks are easily downloadable on the library app and other platforms. In a conversation with Fairview Branch Manager Lisa Tassa, she said that DVDs and audiobooks are their most frequently circulated resource (personal communication, February 13, 2023).

There are computers available for use, including one desk accessible for someone with mobility issues. I did not notice any other technology available to be checked out. However, I know from the Calvert Library website that Chromebooks, tablets, and even a 3-D printer can be checked out in the county-wide system. But I didn't see any signage indicating this service at the Fairview branch. A patron with mobility issues would need to ask someone for assistance to reach many of the bookshelves and, especially, the exceptionally high display shelves with the DVDs and audiobooks.

Tippett, A. (2023, February 13). Accessible computer station at the Fairview Branch Library [Photo].


Other Characteristics

The Fairview Branch of Calvert Library seems like a workhorse of a library – it is functional. But I wouldn't classify it as inspiring. Even the children's section, usually my favorite part of any public library, was crowded with a play kitchen and a huge table with a couple of chairs. It did have a few beanbag chairs, but they were very worn and not inviting.

Tippett, A. (2023, February 13). Children's section at the Fairview Branch Library [Photo].


The building layout doesn't allow for much modification. The feeling of being in an elementary school is still there, even though books surround you. There was some local art on the walls in a rotating exhibit, but because of the overcrowdedness of the library, I almost missed noticing them.

One aspect I found odd is their website address is calvertlibrary.info rather than calvertlibrary.gov or calvertlibrary.com. Calvertlibrary.com is available for $2,295, which may be beyond their budget, but it seems like a worthwhile investment.

On the positive side, though, the interactions I saw between the circulation desk staff/volunteer was the epitome of small-town American friendliness and professionalism. Maybe that is more important than a dated building needing expansion and redesign.


References

Calvert Library. (2023). Calvert Library FY22 annual report. https://calvertlibrary.info/wp-

Calvert Library. (2020, January 27). Calvert Library history. Calvert Library.

Fuggle, L. (2023, January 6). 10 books like Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and tomorrow to read

Providence Associates. (2017). Calvert Library facilities master plan 2017-2037.

U.S. Census Bureau. (n.d.). U.S. Census Bureau quickfacts: Calvert County, Maryland.

Retrieved January 23, 2023, from











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