(This article originally appeared in the April 2023 issue of the South Baltimore Peninsula Post newspaper.)
If you aren’t plugged into the kaleidoscopic array of public programs at the local branch of the Enoch Pratt Free Library (1251 Light Street), you are almost certainly missing out on an experience or two you would really enjoy.
Taste-testing mocktails. Listening to live music, from calypso to classical and klezmer. Collaborating with family and friends on a massive “mystery mosaic.” Painting with alcohol inks. Playing board games into the night.
The Light Street branch is easily one of the busiest libraries in the city system when it comes to public programs. Just take a look at our “SoBo Events” calendar on any given week and you’ll see several activities listed. Some repeat week after week, others once a month, and brand new ones pop up all the time.
The packed schedule for library patrons is engineered by Melanie Jacobs, a 22-year veteran of the Light Street branch. As the teen librarian at the branch, she started creating public programs specifically for teens but has since taken on searching for and scheduling events for all ages.
Constantly on the hunt for programming ideas, Melanie finds them in newspaper stories, through tips from local musicians, and from conversations with community members who visit the library. She regularly taps the expertise and personal interests of her coworkers, who help shape and staff the programs.
“We find all our own programs,” Melanie says. Financial support comes from the Enoch Pratt Free Library central office in downtown Baltimore and the volunteer Friends of the Light Street Branch group that raises funds to support public programs through a book sale and donations.
Programs cover a wide range of interests targeted to different age groups, although Melanie says she really likes programs that appeal across generations. She crafts the monthly schedule with an eye for variety: some live music, an art activity, an historical topic, and something that’s just plain fun.
A staple of the schedule – and consistently the best-attended event – is the weekly Storytimes at the Library for really young kids (ages crawling to 3). On a recent Wednesday morning, the back of the children’s area was a tightly packed stroller parking lot. Seventy kids, parents, and caregivers sprawled across the floor, following along as a librarian led everyone in reciting rhymes, singing songs, marching around, and playing peekaboo with colored scarves.
The live music programs are popular, with an ever-changing slate of genres ranging from harpist Jacqueline Pollauf to Richard Semper, Jr., playing steel pan and steel drums to puppets singing opera with the Opera Outreach Ensemble. A big hit is the regular visit of Sac Au Lait playing swing and New Orleans music, which includes a parade down Light Street (weather permitting).
Art-making programs also come in many different styles. Painting with Alcohol Inks drew a full house in the library’s lower-level meeting room recently as adults learned the technique and made their own designs on tiles. Melanie plans to bring this back every month.
Art as a collaborative community effort is offered every month with a new Let’s Stick Together project. This is a form of “passive programming,” Melanie explains, which is available to patrons upon request whenever they come into the library, rather than on a preset schedule. Each month the library prepares a large, mounted sheet of white paper with a grid pattern printed on it; inside each small grid box is a single capital letter. Patrons place a colored sticker corresponding to the letter in each box, and slowly a hidden piece of art emerges as more stickers are applied. You can see many of the finished pieces decorating the walls of the library.
Other art-related programs include an Anime and Manga Café, a monthly get-together of middle-school-aged fans of the popular Japanese graphic novels to draw in anime style, talk about their favorite characters, and learn a bit about Japanese culture.
Art isn’t the only thing being made at the library. Kitchen Science lets middle-schoolers make (and taste) things like ice cream in a bag. Crafty Cat Blankets lets animal lovers create no-sew, fleece blankets that are donated to the BARCS shelter.
And it wouldn’t be a library without opportunities to Meet the Author. Recently, about 30 fourth-graders from Federal Hill Preparatory School walked over to Light Street to hear award-winning author Sheri Booker read her new children’s book, Imagine a Brown Girl, and talk to her about her career.
Melanie is hoping to do even more programs in the future and bring back some favorites like the Get On Board night of board games for adults.
To keep up with all the program offerings, visit our online calendar or sign up for the library’s events emails by writing to email@example.com. – Steve Cole