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Library celebrates 100th anniversary

April 10, 1998|By STEVEN T. DENNIS

The Washington County Free Library, the first chartered countywide library system in the United States, celebrated its 100th anniversary Thursday.

The library's centennial year is being marked by a series of events ranging from the renovation of the Western Maryland Room, guest speakers and new programs using the Internet, said Mary Baykan, library director.

Baykan said the library will rededicate itself to solving the problem of illiteracy and to providing area children and workers with the tools they need to thrive in a changing world.

The library's becoming more important than ever because of the shift from a manufacturing economy and a need for different skills, she said.

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The library has a groundbreaking history.

A women's club interested in literacy issues got the ball rolling, said Baykan and local historian John Frye. Donations from prominent local businessmen spurred the charter in 1898, and the first library building opened in 1901.

When the library opened, the county didn't have a public high school. The library was seen as "the answer to the education of the common man," Baykan said.

The first librarian, Mary Lemist Titcomb, had innovative ideas, one of which involved placing book boxes in shops throughout the county. In 1905, she put into service the world's first book wagon, a precursor to today's bookmobile.

That innovative spirit continues today.

Among the new programs planned at the library this year is Information Central, a homework center for junior high school students.

The program, which will begin on April 20, will provide Internet access, educational software and textbooks for students who forget to bring their books home from school.

A Family Computer Literacy Center to open at the library in June will feature Internet terminals and educational software, including programs to aid in preparing for the SAT and GED tests.

The library is actively involved in combatting illiteracy through a newly formed county literacy coalition and a new youth reading program, Baykan said.

"(Literacy) is the most important thing we can give a child in life," she said.

The library, which provides Internet access to local governments and maintains county Web pages, is developing a Web-based service called Maryland Share, which will provide searchable Rolodex-type information on community organizations throughout the state.

New computer services going online will enable library patrons to reserve books via the Web, and to check their accounts for overdue materials.

For the future, Baykan said she sees a need for building new libraries and expanding existing libraries.

The main library branch on Potomac Street has become "shabby" and is in need of renovation, she said. She'd like an expansion to provide space for more computers, an enlarged children's department and a meeting room, she said.

Baykan also would like to see a virtual branch open up in the Valley Mall. The branch would consist of a computer lab linked to the Internet. Companies could rent the lab to train their workers.

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