When city resident Jackie Kelly opened the College Park Community Library in 2012, it had 800 books. Now, it has over 9,000, all of which have been donated, said Sarah Caudill, a volunteer at the library.
Staffed entirely by volunteers, the public library — located in the lower level of the Church of the Nazarene on Rhode Island Avenue — is the city's first since 1986. While Hyattsville, Greenbelt and other nearby towns have public libraries, there was no place in College Park for residents to check out books for free. The University of Maryland's libraries, for example, require individuals not affiliated with the university to request a community borrowers card and pay $50 or more each year.
On Thursday afternoons, the library hosts young elementary school students, who practice their reading skills with a library staff member. Co-director of the library Elaine Stillwell said this program, which started in fall 2012, is very helpful for parents, particularly if English is their second language, because they might not know if their kids are pronouncing words correctly.
"Some of the older children now are helping younger children to read too," Stillwell said. "It kind of is a chance for them to take [their reading skills] to another level. … [It's] a safe place for kids to come."
About a year after it opened, the library began offering free English classes for non-native speakers. The classes — which focus on conversation and language development — were offered on Wednesday mornings last spring and are set to pick back up in February, said Stillwell, who teaches the course and has a master's degree in adult and continuing education and teaching.
"This is a good place for them to explore that without having to really be in the supermarket or conduct business," said Stillwell.
Kelly opened up the library with Joe Smith, who no longer resides in College Park or is involved with the library, because she was frustrated that residents of the city were not allowed to check out books from this university's libraries.
"I just feel that that's something our city needed and that we didn't have, and now we have a library," Kelly said.
Stillwell said she wants the library to be a "center for the community." The library provides important services for College Park residents without computers or printers, she said. It also offers space for various groups — such as a photography club, a book group and an arts-and-crafts group — to come together and meet.
One of the main programs offered at the library is story time for children on Wednesday mornings.
Caudill, an alumna of this university who began volunteering at the library in fall 2015, said that she will read to any children that come into the library, regardless of whether it's during story time.
The story time is a good opportunity for parents and children to meet up and socialize, Stillwell said.
Daria Giraldo, a parent who attends story time with her 2-year-old, said the storyteller at the community library stood out to her. Micki Freeny, the Wednesday morning storyteller at the library and former director for the Prince George's County library system, is "so full of energy, humor and [is] very knowledgeable about kids songs and poems," Giraldo said. "She's just unbelievable."
"I have checked other public libraries, their story times, and this was the best one I found, so we stuck with this one," she said. "Nothing but compliments about them."