By Stephanie Lipcius Palko
Cecil County Public Library officials are taking their time to make sure they get the plans done correctly when it comes to the new library planned for North East.
This library will be constructed at the southwest corner of US 40 and MD 272 in North East Station, the shopping center that has the Food Lion, Lowe’s and other stores.
Not only will this be a state-of-the-art facility to handle the needs of the North East area residents, it will also be the new central library for the county’s library system. This means the administrative offices for the libraries will move from Elkton to the new library. With the limited space and property at the Elkton library, moving the administrative functions of the county library system will free space in the Elkton facility for more services for the library patrons.
“We are spending a lot of our time talking to people,” said Cecil County Library Director Morgan Miller, when asked how the library system is getting input from people as to what they want to see in the new North East library.
“We have had eight focus groups,” she said. The focus groups have been in various locations to attract input from a variety of people in the community…from parents with young children to school children to business people.
Miller said approximately 400 people have offered their ideas.
“We’ve taken all that information and we are working on the actual design of the building,” Miller said.
The new North East library building will take into account the trends in library usage.
“Libraries are more people-centric and less collections-centric,” Miller said, saying the new library will have open areas, conference and meeting spaces and areas for special programs for children, as well as the ability to acquire digital information from around the world.
The building will be in the range of 50,000 square feet. Miller said care is being taken to make sure the design of the building achieves the goal of using the space in the most efficient way possible.
About a third of the space will be reserved for the library system’s administrative needs. The meeting room in the North East library will be able to handle 100 people, Miller said. There will be a dedicated story time area for youngsters, Miller said, explaining this is an important feature in every library since Cecil County’s public libraries feature 350 early childhood programs each year.
Not only will there be space for the variety of uses for a public library, Miller said the library system will be offering full-service hours. This includes evening hours. While the Cecil County public libraries have Saturday hours, thus far, there have been no Sunday hours.
Miller said with the planning of the new library, the library system is also looking to offer Sunday hours.
“We are one of only a few libraries not to offer Sunday hours,” Miller said, noting that since many people have their weekends free, it has been a shame to not offer them the use of the public libraries during their free weekend time. The plan will be to open the new library from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Sundays.
Locating the library in a shopping center has been a growing trend among library systems, Miller said. Going to a library is part of the usual destinations for many families, so the library director said the library should be open when people are flocking to the shopping center.
When Chesapeake City needed a new location for a library branch a few years ago, it was placed in a shopping center along MD 213.
“People tend to trip-chain,” Miller said, explaining why libraries need to be near shops and other destinations.
“This is an incredible resource. Why keep it locked on a day when people have time off?” Miller said, of the library system.
A basic plan for the North East library should be completed during the summer, Miller said. The goal is to offer plenty of time for the public to look at that basic plan and offer any changes that would make it function better within the community.
If all goes according to schedule, construction would start before the middle of 2019, Miller said.
“Earlier, if we can,” she added.
The library should be ready to welcome people through its doors by the fall of 2020.
When the administrative offices leave the Elkton library, Miller said there will be more open spaces for library patrons to enjoy.
Miller said the 21st century library needs to do a lot of things for the community.
“The job has gotten much harder,” she said.
Librarians need to know where to find resources to help answer inquiries from the public. With all of the information available in this digital age, sourcing good, reliable information is a challenge, she said.
In most communities, the public library is the first place people go for information.
“Where else would somebody go to get information?” Miller asked.
While there will always be a need to help people find basic information on a variety of topics, the questions from the public are also getting harder, she said.
“What we find is that people are asking more complex questions,” Miller said. “They want to know how to do things, not just information on things.”
How many inquiries does the library system have to handle?
The answer is… a lot.
“We answer about 8,500 questions a month,” Miller said.
As the library system focuses on creating a new central library in North East that can meet the changing demands for library services, Miller said the existing library branches in the county will continue to be improved to help the library system meet the challenges in every corner of Cecil County.