At the Baltimore County Public Library, residents can check out more than just books

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There are more than 1.8 million books that can be retrieved from the Baltimore County Public Library’s 19-branch system. But many people don’t know that you can also borrow a loom or a fishing rod.

Jamie Watson has been Head of Collections Development at BCPL for 12 years, but has loved books for as long as she can remember.

“My dad was a baseball coach and his players taught me to read when I was three and I’ve been reading pretty much ever since,” says Watson, 57, who grew up in Ohio. “I had my own library at home – it’s going to make me look so cheesy – with a little stamp and I’d put a due date and everything.”

This young bookworm ended up making it his job. And although buying books is the biggest part of his job, the library of thingsa collection of items other than books on loan from the library — from Catan board games to rock and fossil kits — was great fun for Watson and his team of 12.

“We’ve actually been buying things that aren’t traditional library items for a very long time,” she says, noting that one of the original items – from at least the 1980s – was an engraver to help identify bicycles. if they have been lost or stolen.

The Sacramento Public Library in California introduced the European concept to the United States more than 15 years ago, but in Baltimore County, the Library of Things started in earnest in 2017, when some individual branches got micro- grants from the library foundation to test experimental collections. . The Woodlawn branch has made science kits for young learners. The Catonsville branch has obtained telescopes to lend. The Reisterstown branch made “creature kits” with magnifying glasses and field guides to encourage families to get outside.

“When you start talking about the world of thingsThere is no end.

“We quickly learned that people liked them,” says Watson. But in order to make them scalable for more people, they needed to rethink their circulation logistics. “For example, if you wanted the Woodlawn science kit, you had to go to Woodlawn to get it,” she says. “When you want to pass a book around, you stick a sticker on it and a call number and it’s good to go, but there’s a lot more to think about when things aren’t in perfect book-like packaging. “

That’s when they came up with an elegant solution. As long as you have a library card, you can access the full collection through the library website. You can put anything on hold, and once it’s available, it’s sent to your library branch through an inter-library mail system. “A bit of online shopping,” says Watson.

So what else can you find at the Library of Things? There are outdoor games like lawn darts, croquet, and corn hole, plus Chromebooks, tons of board games, and memory kits for the older community. One of the most popular items is the “outdoor movie night” with its inflatable screen and projector.

There are also fishing rods and tackle thanks to a partnership with the North Point branch and the Maryland Department of Natural Resources. Items come mostly from the system budget, although some have been funded by grants or through the foundation. They do not accept donated items. And while all of these things are kept in their respective branches, Watson dreams of one day having a single, more permanent collection.

“You will have the opportunity to do more and bigger things,” she says. “When you start talking about the world of thingsThere is no end.

Other libraries across the country have musical instruments, tools, GoPros, sewing machines and record players for loan.

Community feedback has been positive, with most borrowers happy to “try” something before investing in it themselves. And there’s always that element of surprise when someone first learns that they can look at articles beyond books.

According to Watson, “It adds a certain joy to our visitors by giving them items they might not expect to see in a library.”

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