For much of my life, I have had a close association with libraries and with books generally. Ever since I worked at the McKeldin Library Periodicals Desk – during my time as an undergraduate student at the University of Maryland, College Park – I have had an evolving relationship with libraries. Most recently, I have been actively engaged as a volunteer for my local library system, the Baltimore County Public Library (BCPL).
Never in all of my years strolling through the stacks of my neighborhood library branch did I think that, one day, I would see my name on the spine of a book housed on those very shelves. As it happens, I recently had the unique experience to co-author a local history book with a good friend of mine. This volume, which hit the streets as of President’s Day 2013, chronicles the nearly 250 year history of the Perry Hall Mansion, the very first residence built in what today is known as Perry Hall, Maryland, my home town.
The book itself it an illustrated history of this significant historic residence, and is part of the “Images of America” series put out by Arcadia Publishers of South Carolina. This chronicle consists of over 200 images, personal accounts of surviving residents, and original source documents to vividly tell the story of Perry Hall Mansion.
Having now gone through the process of writing and editing a book, I can definitely tell you that it required a good bit of time and a lot of hard work. My co-author Sean Kief and I spent a lot of time in identifying the best images to include in this book. Both of us wanted to ultimately have a volume that was at once both informative and yet accessible to readers of varied interests. Some people are often turned-off by the prospect of reading non-fiction, with history books in particular often seeming too dense for the typical reader.
As it happens, both my co-author and I have strong connections to public libraries. Sean himself worked part-time during high school at BCPL’s Loch Raven branch, and his mother has worked for many years in the administrative offices for the system. I truly believe that the strong links that he and I both shared with our local libraries were invaluable in offering a perspective on what would actually make a book readable and even enjoyable for public library customers.
Now that the book has actually been published – after nearly one year’s worth of research, writing, and editing – our attention turns to the process of making the general public aware of the book itself. Here again, my co-author and I have been keen on making sure that public libraries have a central role in this process.
Later this year, we will be conducting a book talk and signing at the Perry Hall branch of BCPL. There couldn’t be a more ideal venue for this sort of event, given that Historic Perry Hall Mansion, Inc. (the volunteer preservation group that Sean and I both help to lead) donated a series of three oil paintings of the mansion to the branch upon its opening in 2009. Both of us will also be participating in a local author’s event hosted by the nearby Harford County Public Library, to be held at its Bel Air, Maryland branch.
Years of visiting, working, or even volunteering at public libraries can indeed offer the experience and perspective required to create the sort of books that might have appeal for the reading public. If nothing else, it certainly doesn’t hurt to find a topic that appeals to your local community, write a compelling narrative, and then perhaps even help your library to advance its mission of giving readers what they want.