ESSEX — The Essex branch of the Baltimore County Public Library turned 50 this week, and threw an out of this world event last Wednesday to celebrate.
A full day of fun and family-friendly events began with a firetruck viewing, face-painting and an opening ceremony featuring Baltimore County Executive John Olszewski Jr. and District 6 leaders Sen. Johnny Ray Salling and Del. Ric Metzgar, both R-6. The event went galactic with a children’s science program, a former astronaut meet-and-greet and ended with a magician and mentalist presentation.
“This is our 50th anniversary of being at this particular branch, in this particular location,” said Essex library manager Yvette May. “We had our beginnings in the late 1940s, but it has evolved over the years. We wanted to do something really special for the community. We had a team that got together and planned everything — a day of celebration and giving back.”
The building itself has undergone changes. May said that five years ago the library was renovated and the interior was completely remodeled inside.
“We’ve evolved over the years and we’re excited to be in this community,” she said. “We feel we’re in a really relevant location. People are coming in all the time to get help for computer assistance and job assistance, and there’s a lot of different things that we’re finding that they need and want. We’ve redefined who we are in many ways. We’re not just checking out books anymore, but we’re really a vital educational part of the community.”
Paula Miller, Baltimore County Public Libraries director, detailed for The Avenue News and The Dundalk Eagle all the monumental things that happened in 1969 — the year the library opened.
The Apollo 11 lunar excursion module landed on the moon, carrying with it American astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin. An estimated 500 million people watched the landing on television, which was slowly making its way into virtually all American homes around the world.
Woodstock attracted more than 350,000 rock-n-roll fans. And Richard Nixon was inaugurated as the 37th president of the United States. Miller said that 250,000 protesters marched on Washington against the Vietnam War, Sesame Street debuted on PBS, The Beatles recorded the album Abbey Road and the year’s bestselling novel was “The Godfather” by Mario Puzo.
The average monthly rent was $135, the average cost of a new car was $3,270 and the cost of a gallon of gas was 35 cents.
“Fast forward to 2019,” Miller said. “We see 250,000 visitors through these doors every year. Over 300,000 items are in circulation out of this branch alone during a single year and it has become a lasting anchor in the community. So while many things changed during that time in the last 50 years, Baltimore County Public Library is proud of our community and our commitment to access opportunities, equity and community engagement in this branch. We provide and empower people of all ages with resources. And I am personally very proud of the commitment of our library staff.”
Sharon Peters, a 25-year veteran staffer of the location also praised the Essex branch.
“I think this is a great branch,” she said. “There were no computers when I started coming here. I used to bring my kids. I loved working here.”
Peters said the front desk was her favorite duty when she was on the clock.
Librarian Rachel Jackson said coming to the branch when she was younger was an “awesome” experience.
“We’ve grown a lot in terms of having more programs and classes for free,” she said. “We’ve been more involved with teens and making sure we hit all the different levels as far as seniors and all the different age groups. For the longest time, we just had books. But now we’re more of a learning center and community center.”
Longtime Essex activist and District 7 Board of Education member Rod McMillion was at the celebration, as well. “It meets the needs of the people in the community,” he said. “It’s a base. It’s a hub for a lot of different activities. This library has been a very, very important part of a lot of people’s lives.”
Salling and Metzgar came from Annapolis for the momentous occasion.
“Its about the community having a great opportunity to go to a place to learn,” said Sen. Salling. “There’s a great history in libraries but there’s great opportunity too for jobs. If you don’t know about computers, they can also help you with that, too. So it’s a great opportunity to learn about the history of the community, to learn about the history of the world.”
Del. Metzgar expressed his excitement about the day, and reminisced about attending the original Essex library’s branch to “get away” from his five siblings.
“It taught me to stir the gift that’s within,” he said. “We’re never too young or too old to learn.”
Patrons and children were also excited about the activities and history of the day. “Everybody is so nice here. They help us with everything,” said Wanda Okwesilie who has been attending the branch for seven years.
“When I used to come here with my daughter, sometimes I had work I needed to understand, they had someone here to help me. This location is awesome.”
The County Executive, Sen. Salling and a representative from Governor Larry Hogan’s office presented library officials with citations acknowledging the momentous occasion.
“This library has an incredible history, and it’s important that we remember our history,” Olszewski said.