It Takes a Community to Make a Library

by Bill Peak

One of the things I love about working at the library is that, well, it's a library! Whenever I have a question about almost anything, the answer inevitably lies right at my fingertips. The other day, for instance, I was reading a book that claimed the verb “to chat” dates from the World War I practice of soldiers gathering sociably in the trenches to pick vermin (called “chats”) from the seams of their clothing. A quick check of the library's 12-volume Oxford English Dictionary revealed that people have described a friendly talk as a “chat” since the time of Shakespeare ... and another false factoid bites the dust.

One of the questions I often bring to the library's storehouse of answers involves not etymology but entomology. The next time you're visiting the woodpile, take a close look at the myriad creepy-crawlies over-wintering in its interstices and you too will find yourself wondering at the variety and complexity of the six-legged world. My amateurish attempts at identification used to involve endless struggles with taxonomy in the library's field guides, but nowadays, thankfully, all I have to do is turn to the library's resident entomologist.

After retiring from a thirty-year teaching career in universities, Dr. Ted Suman—entomologist extraordinaire—decided to become a volunteer at the Talbot County Free Library. Most of the time Ted's work at the library involves history, for he has long since become an invaluable assistant in our Maryland Room archives, gathering cataloguing information, shelving books, and helping people with their genealogical research. But volunteering at the library has given Dr. Suman the opportunity to touch the future as well as the past.

Before he came to work here, children entering the library used to make a beeline for Miss Rosemary's enchanted kingdom. But now, almost without exception, they pause first to ponder the “Living Critters” display Ted created and maintains at the entrance to Miss Rosemary's realm. Here our community's little ones can watch horseshoe crabs swim about as they have since the Ordovician, hissing cockroaches hiss, and a living, breathing, surprisingly modest tarantula (named, by the children, “Rosie”) wander about in its terrarium. Before each small living space, Ted has placed a label that tells something of the creature within and its habits in language easy for a youngster to follow. The children stand before these exhibits transfixed. We are all of us, of course, from time to time, astonished by life's diversity, but children, thankfully, have yet to learn to mask that astonishment. I once heard a six-year-old—who was standing with his mother before the “Living Critters” display—ardently declare his devotion to the work of Ted Suman's heart and hands, “This is my favorite part of the library!” As compliments go, that's hard to beat.

His weekly stints in our Maryland Room, his “Living Critters” display, the smiles he shares so readily with our patrons, these are the gifts Dr. Ted Suman offers every week, out of the goodness of his heart, to our community. And he is not alone. Ninety-some-odd Talbot Countians regularly volunteer their time and expertise to make our library work, their only recompense the satisfaction they receive from knowing they are doing some good for the people that live around them. It's a lovely part of the lovely Eastern Shore, Talbot County, and if you have any doubts about that, all you need do is visit our library. It's a place we created together ... because we care about each other.