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Towson Branch History


The Towson Library began lending books on May 1, 1936. The library was conceived of, and first operated by, the Woman's Club of Towson. It was located in Odd Fellow's Hall. The books, many donated gifts, were shelved in orange crates. Most of the equipment was donated as well.


The first Branch Librarian for the Towson Library was Mary O'Dell. She served from 1938 to 1954.


In 1938, the County Commissioners gave its first funding and its first official recognition to the library. By this time, the small collection of donated books had grown to 4000 volumes and  circulation was just over 15,350. The library had moved to the top floor, three rooms and a bath, of 420 York Road - what was then Jackson's Bakery. However, it soon became apparent that the library needed more space. In fact, when a prominent Baltimore county family donated 1200 volumes in 1940, the processing and cataloging was done at Mrs. Odell's home.


It was in 1940 that noted columnist, R. P. Harriss, from the Baltimore Sun visited the "Shoestring Library" as he called it and wrote an eloquent appeal for more space for the library. It was Mr. Harriss who reported that the title of the first book borrowed from the library was Hornaday's Taxidermy. He wrote, "That's a private little joke among the ladies who run this place. They won't mention the borrower's name, but the fact is that he liked the book so well he just couldn't bring it back. He did send them, however, his first handiwork -- a stuffed sparrowhawk -- as an example of the practical influence of the library upon the community, but they're glad that no other borrowers have kept the books they borrowed."


The article, or Mrs. Odell's perseverance, or both, did the trick. In 1940, the library moved into the seemingly spacious first floor, 6 rooms and a bath, of an apartment house located at 25 West Pennsylvania Avenue. However, by 1946, just a short six years, the collection had grown from 8,500 volumes to 14,325 volumes, and the library was once again looking for room to expand. Mrs. Odell struggled with the overcrowded location until her retirement in 1953.


The Towson Library's next Branch Librarian was Sarah Cockey, who served from 1954 to 1956. Miss Cockey saw the Towson Library grow to be the busiest branch in the Baltimore County Library System. The system was formed in 1949. In 1955, the branch's limited collection of 16,576 volumes circulated a remarkable 102,203 times. Miss Cockey had entered the position with hopes of a new facility, since plans had been in the works to purchase property for a new branch. However, those plans fell through and it was not until she was preparing to move into a position in the Administrative Offices of the Baltimore County Public Library that a leased facility at 28 West Susquehanna Avenue became available.


The new facility was handed over to Geneva Robinson, who served as Branch Librarian from 1956 to 1970. This 14-year stretch saw the Towson Branch grow from a collection of 17,399 volumes to almost 90,000 volumes. Circulation kept pace, growing from 113,172 to 464,541. This period also saw the addition of a variety of technologies. A photographic charging system was introduced in 1959 and 1963 saw the installation of a photocopier and microfilm machines.


As always, the issue of inadequate space soon became a problem again. In 1964, a Bond Issue was approved allowing for the selection of a site and the beginning of architectural planning for a new facility. It would take eleven years for the plans to become a reality.


In 1970, Miss Robinson joined the administration of the library system and turned the Towson Branch over to Robert Greenfield, who served as Branch Librarian from 1970 to 1976. Construction of the new building was just beginning at the location of 320 York Road. Interestingly, this site had once been Mary Odell's residence.


Mr. Greenfield, ever the champion of the recreational reader, embraced wholeheartedly the idea of demand buying in multiple copies. This philosophy had just begun to develop within the Baltimore County system. Always responsive to his public, Mr. Greenfield opened the branch at nine o'clock in order to reflect the hours of the business district outside the doors.


And so, at last, in 1974 came moving day into the long awaited new building. The building was dedicated on May 12, 1974 and officially opened for service on May 13, 1974. Finally, a real library building with space - at least for a little while.


In 1976, Mr. Greenfield turned the branch over to Kenna Forsyth, who served as Branch Manager from 1976 to 1980. Soon after her arrival, the branch surpassed 1,000,000 in circulation. In addition, plans were underway to install an automated circulation system in Baltimore County and the Towson Branch was to be the first site to go online. After hundreds of hours bar-coding and inputting material, the staff at Towson circulated the first books in October, 1977. In 1978, Miss Forsyth and her staff took on the new challenge of becoming generalists along with the rest of the Baltimore County system.


In 1980, Miss Forsyth turned over the branch to Cornelia Ives. In 1985, the Towson Branch was given the Best Library award by the City Paper. In 1986, it was recognized by the County Executive for its outstanding contributions to its community.


By 1989, that old space problem was once again becoming evident. In June of that year, committees began planning for an addition to the Towson Branch and Administrative Offices of the Baltimore County system. On November 20, 1989, groundbreaking ceremonies were held and the first drilling began. Work continued on for almost two years before the addition was complete. The branch  remained open for almost all of the time, with the only major disruptions coming in the final stages of the expansion over the summer of 1991. Finally, on August 12, 1991, the Towson Branch reopened as a newly expanded full service facility.


The years since 1980 have been ones of great challenge due to new technologies. New formats of material such as compact discs, and interactive computer software have emerged. Online research databases, public computers and access to the Internet are just a few of the services being offered in addition to traditional library materials and services.


Kid's Kingdom


Entrance to Towson Branch's Kid's Kingdom

Customers approaching the children's area of the Towson Branch see first the "stone" walls and turrets of a castle. As they pass through the castle entrance the children's area opens up before them. Inside, the castle wall provides stairs upward for a view over the wall; below, a hideaway.


The Kid's Kingdom came about not by magic but by hard work. The Towson Branch was given a grant from the Foundation for Baltimore County Public Library to create a children's area that would become a model for the library system and be a favorite destingation of parents and children.


After conducting customer surveys and research, the theme of an enchanted castle was selected. Rubeling and Associates, a Towson architectural firm, lent their expertise to help plan the castle facade and layout. The faux finish concept was created by the Valley Craftsman of Baltimore.  With additional funds from The Friends of the Towson Library, construction by Hayes Construction of Phoenix, Maryland, began in May of 2001.

Fireplace in Towson Branch's Kid's Kingdom

Volunteers from the Bykota House, Towson's Senior Center, built a fireplace with bookcases on either side which provides a cozy area for storytelling and other gatherings.


With the consent of children's author/illustrator, Gail Gibbons, the multi-cultural dragons she created in Behold...the Dragon (1999) were brought to life by local artist Sydney Hopkins. They adorn the walls of the Kid's Kingdom. To complete our theme of diversity, Hopkins also rendered a West African Bobo dancer taken from African Ceremonies Volume 2 (1999).


A special baby play area was created for children under 3 years and enhanced by a quilt created and sewn by librarian, Mary Hinkle. Using the dragon from the 1998 Baltimore County Public Library Summer Reading Club, a baby friendly dragon named "Spike" was created. The grand opening of the "Kid's Kingdom" took place October 13, 2001 with crowns for all the children, stories and a puppet show, "The Reluctant Dragon".



Friends of the Towson Library History


The branch support group known as the Friends of the Towson Library, Inc. has been an active organization since 1939. Up until that point a Towson library had been sponsored by the Women's Club of Towson, which had decided that it had become an operation of sufficient size to warrant broader community interest and support. Mrs. H. Guy Campbell, the club's Library Chairman, accordingly called an organization meeting in February. Here is a quotation from the minutes of that meeting: "More than 200 persons gathered at the Odd Fellows Hall, Towson, on February 6, 1939 to form a permanent library organization and to suggest ways and means of improving the present library sponsored by the Women's Club of Towson."


The Friends of the Towson Library, Inc. was instrumental in seeing that the library moved into increasingly larger quarters over the years. In the spring of 1974, the library occupied its handsome new building at the corner of York Road and Chesapeake Avenue.


At present, The Friends of the Towson Library are directing their principal efforts toward the betterment of the library through financial support and volunteer work.


A few of their accomplishments:


  • Donated audio/visual equipment
  • Paid for exterior landscaping
  • Published History of Baltimore County (opens new window within catalog) opens in by Neal A. Brooks and Eric G. Rockel, the first history of the county in nearly 100 years
  • Financed the provision of photographs for the book, Towson: A Pictorial History (opens new window within catalog) by H. George Hahn and Carl Behm III 


Ongoing activities:


  • Sponsors, throughout the year, a wide range of activities for children and adults. Included are lectures, musical programs, demonstrations, and special events. These programs are free and are publicized in the library and in our newsletter

  • Supports the branch's daily activities through a volunteer program


History of Towson Branch and Friends provided by Cornelia Ives, former Branch Manager, Towson Branch, 1980 to 1998.



Revised: July 13, 2015