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Bel Air Branch History

The Bel Air Library was organized in 1885 and operated by the Ladies Auxiliary of Emmanuel Church. The Bel Air Circulating Library, as it was originally named, started with a collection of 200 books. The building was originally located on Main Street, near the courthouse and served not only as a library but also as a community center. A reading room for men, where they could play games and smoke, was a favorite place in the library.

In 1906 the MD State Library Commission reported that Harford County had responded “most favorably” to the traveling libraries plan. In 1909 a field secretary was warmly received by the Harford County Historical Society, interested in helping establish a County library system. The Harford County Library Association was formed in 1912 and the first free library was housed in 2 rooms above a tailor shop on Main Street.

By 1915 the collection had grown to 1,360 volumes and the library had 414 borrowers. The library moved to a space in the Armory in 1918 and then in 1926 the library moved to a house on Main Street purchased by the Association. The Library Aid Act of 1945 gave recognition and monetary support to county governments for established library services so in 1946 the Association turned over its assets to the Harford County Library Board of Trustees. In 1947 the Grace Methodist Church on Main Street became the library’s home and 12,300 books were moved to the new location.

In 1956 a sign on the church doors saying “We are not closed. The door sticks.” coupled with leaking roof and drafty windows indicated a new building was needed. January 1959 saw the gift of a one acre corner lot from the Bel Air Town Commissioners as a building site. The new building on this site was dedicated on October 30, 1960. In 1967 an addition was constructed and in 1982 the decision to move the administrative offices from the Bel Air site allowed full use of the building by the public. Soon this too was not enough room and a 25,000 sq. ft. addition was completed in 1997 and a renovation of the old building completed the present structure in 1998.

The branch also has drive-thru window service, self checkout machines, wireless internet, and DVD dispenser machines. The Learning and Sharing Collection, a circulating collection of developmental toys, puppets, puzzles, parenting DVDs, books and magazines for children up to age 5 can be found in the Children’s department. The Maryland Room, on the second floor of the building, houses the Maryland Collection and the Oral History Collection.

The branch features an Early Literacy Interactive Space. This dedicated area within the Children’s department that will focus on our youngest readers and their families. Through engaging play, targeted materials and innovative programs, this space will encourage the emergent literacy skills essential to school readiness for children. For elementary through middle school children, the department offers StreamWorks, a STEM and Maker Space that offers children and their families to create with 3D printers, fabric arts and so much more.

Historical data taken from Harford Historical Bulletin; no. 67, Winter 1996; pgs 7-14

Branch Square Footage: 53,964