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Library transforms for Gala in the Stacks

October 10, 2002|by KEVIN CLAPP

When clocks strike noon Saturday, the typically staid central branch of Washington County Free Library will shed its inhibitions to become a haven fit for 76 trombones.

Out with vertical stacks of newly released books and videos. Out with the bank of computers and study tables. In with all manner of finery befitting a Gala in the Stacks: Cocktail tables, food, entertainment.

It's a transformation worthy of flimflam man Harold Hill, titular character of "The Music Man," this year's Gala theme.

And like the traveling salesman who persuaded the citizens of River City, Iowa, to part with their money in the 50-year-old musical, the library is out to make a buck.


Difference is, no one suffers in this scheme. Proceeds from the third annual fund-raiser go to future building projects, while the event itself shatters the traditional view of libraries.

"People who work in libraries are very creative and this is a way to show that to the world," says Kathleen O'Connell, assistant director of Washington County Free Library. "It's not just people who read books. It's people who are thoughtful and imaginative, too."

So while attendees gussied up in formal wear munch on finger foods, screenings of "The Music Man" will be projected in the background. A piano player will set up shop, as will The Rohrersville Band and barbershop quartet Harmony Legend.

Library memorabilia from the early 1900s will be on display, while Tim Ratliff and Jonathan Hulse present a marbles game exhibition.

A caricaturist will create funky portraits of guests, Dick Hershey will portray Mark Twain, and an exhibit will highlight band uniforms, antique instruments and original scores by John Philip Sousa.

The desired effect of all this pomp and circumstance, according to public relations coordinator Marsha Fuller, is to take revelers to another place for the evening.

"It puts you in another world, and really, that's what a library does in a lot of ways. It transports you in books," she says. "It's just a continuation of what we do as storytellers."

Looking for an all-American tone after back-to-back themes of "Paris in the '30s" and "Casablanca," O'Connell says to expect lots of red, white and blue Saturday night, even as the library hopes to raise as much green as possible.

The event is critical, and not just for preserving the library, according to Gala in the Stacks chair Mary Anne Burke, marketing director for The Hagerstown-Washington County Chamber of Commerce.

"A more literate society, a more literate community in Washington County is absolutely key to our future development," she says. "A well-read and educated community is our future."

Last year's Gala netted $20,000 for use in upcoming construction projects. On tap are new facilities in Smithsburg and Boonsboro, plus a complete renovation of the central branch.

With the county having approved $200,000 for the Smithsburg and Boonsboro projects, library administrators rely on the Gala to provide a boost to their financial endeavors. Thus far, they have not been disappointed by the community's generosity.

In roughly 24 hours this weekend, the central branch will go from mild-mannered book depository to rollicking fun house and back again. Fuller looks forward to the frenzy, if only to see the less inhibited side of the library she loves.

"It's so different looking. It's hard to imagine now when you look out there at all the stacks of books," she says. "Seeing everybody dressed up, it's not a library perspective. It's just really fun."

If you go . . .

Gala in the Stacks celebrates "The Music Man," a benefit for Washington County Library System

Saturday, Oct. 12

6:30 p.m.; music until 11 p.m.

Washington County Free Library

100 S. Potomac St.


Tickets cost $70.

For information or tickets, call 301-739-3250.

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