OCEAN CITY – The Worcester County Public Library’s new Ocean City branch turns one next week, and if the success of the first year is any indication, year number two won’t be terrible.
The new, state-of-the-art Ocean City public library opened on 100th Street last March 19 to rave reviews, and despite reservations by some about the closure of the old facility that had been on 14th Street for decades, the first year is considered by most to be an unequivocal success. The facility itself, which mixes traditional Ocean City architectural elements with modern amenities, has received rave reviews, but a library is more than just walls and windows and bookshelves and the new one in Ocean City has been successful in becoming part of the heart and soul of the resort community.
The two-story facility with its pitched roof, floor to ceiling windows, “green” design elements and light and airy spaces has certainly created a good first impression for those who have been visiting the old library for years and those who have wandered in for the first time, according to Ocean City Library branch manager Andrea Schlottman.
“The one thing that really has stood out is the ‘wow’ factor,” she said. “I can’t tell you how many people come in for the first time and just say wow. With the architecture and the lighting and everything else this facility has, it really is an amazing library.”
Schlottman said the new library was extremely popular from the beginning and its popularity has steadily increased during the first 12 months it has been opened. In the fast-paced world of the Internet, 24-hour cable news, books on tape and countless other options for getting information or doing some research, the popularity of libraries in general waned in recent years, but they are making a strong comeback as people revert to simpler times and the Ocean City branch is no exception.
“The usage has definitely exceeded expectations,” she said. “Most of our regular patrons are making the trip to the new library and we’ve also seen many new patrons.”
Worcester Public Library Director Mark Thomas told the County Commissioners last months the number of visitors to the county’s five library branches spiked up dramatically since July with over 250,000 visitors walking through the doors over the last six months of 2008. Those visitors checked out nearly 270,000 items from books to CDs to DVDs, or roughly 100,000 more than the same period the previous year.
The Ocean City branch saw an increase of checked-out items of over 29,000 items over the same period from the previous year, an increase credited in part because of the new facility, but also because of changing economic times, according to Schlottman.
“As the economy goes south, people look for alternatives for relaxation or a diversion and we are providing that,” she said. “Maybe their Internet connection at home as been turned off, or they don’t want to buy that expensive book, or they can’t afford a movie a Blockbuster, but they can come in here and get on-line or borrow a book or a movie for free.”
Schlottman there has been a significant return to borrowing and reading books, perhaps another indication of changing economic times, as people are trying to stretch their entertainment buck and getting back to simpler, low cost diversions.
“It’s a tax-supported entity and our challenge is to give the people what they want and what they need,” she said. “The days of the librarian with the bun in her hair walking around shushing people are long over.”
While some are coming to the library to do Internet research or check their email, or utilize the facility’s many modern amenities, many more are checking out its other offerings, from book clubs and lectures to art classes and exhibitions to classic movie screenings. Others simply utilize the facility for its social benefits.
“It really is a cultural center,” she said. “The library is the other place. It’s not home, and it’s not work, but it’s a comfortable place where people can find some quiet time, or they can interact with others. We have a lot of retired people who come in and read the newspapers and talk about the economy or sports. It happened at 14th Street and it is happening here.”
Many long-time patrons of the old 14th Street library have resisted the new facility for a lot of reasons, but most have come back around, according to Schlottman.
“There have been some people, old school patrons from downtown, who have resisted the new library,” she said. “Change is difficult for people sometimes.”
With its new digs uptown, the Ocean City library has been successful in retaining its legion of past users and has attracted hundreds of new users who wouldn’t necessarily make the trip downtown to the old facility. The library opened last March to rave reviews and hasn’t looked back since, according to Schlottman.
“I’ve been delighted,” she said. “The staff has bonded and has really been phenomenal. It truly is a success story, and I think we all could use a little good news about a success story right now.”
To commemorate the one-year anniversary, the Ocean City library is hosting an open house from 4-7 p.m. on March 19. Festivities include a screening of the film classic “Casa Blanca” starting at 4 p.m., followed by a performance by local soprano Margaret Brown, accompanied by pianist Elsworth Wheatley. An elegant buffet of fresh fruit and desserts will be offered.