Murphy & Dittenhafer Architects recently completed renovations at the South Cumberland Library in Allegany County, Maryland.

Murphy & Dittenhafer Architects recently completed renovations at the South Cumberland Library in Allegany County, Maryland.

Murphy & Dittenhafer Architects’ work on the library included everything from a new entrance to interior design.

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The doors open and in a blue-collar mountain town in Western Maryland. A man walks toward a row of new computers, hoping for news on the job search that’s keeping him up at night. Later in the evening, in the community room of same library, locals will gather to learn a little about their genealogy.

The sun climbs over the state park to the east and a boy begins to explore the stacks. He scans rows of titles for just the right book, then settles in, growing quiet.

At last, a good story.

Murphy & Dittenhafer Architects recently completed renovations at the South Cumberland Library in Allegany County, Maryland. The work included everything from a new entrance and a totally new layout to comprehensive interior design - and it left M&D architects feeling like they’d helped make one rural community a little bit of a better place.

“We wanted to create a place for people to gather; a space that would be a source of local pride,” says Architect Todd Grove. “We just felt the community really deserved that, and we were happy to help.”

A space to learn

The existing South Cumberland Library didn’t do much to stir the imagination. Constructed in the early 1980s, the 9,000-square-foot brick Colonial looked more like a doctor’s office or a bank than a library. The acoustics weren’t ideal, and there was little natural light.

South Cumberland is the county library system’s busiest walk-in branch, yet it didn’t feel inviting. So, the Murphy & Dittenhafer Architects team stared there.

“With every project, we attempt to find the value of that place and how we can accentuate that,” says Architect Bruce Johnson, “and this project was certainly no different.”

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It began outside with a larger, more convenient entrance, and additional windows were installed to help connect the surrounding community with the hum of activity inside.

An interior redesign brought state-of-the-art acoustic ceiling systems and LED lighting, shorter shelves for a more open feel and an expanded community room for seminars and gatherings. The stacks in the children’s section are moveable to allow for events, with the furniture throughout more modern and inviting.

“M&D really put the whole package together, from the architecture to the mechanical work to the furnishings,” said John Taube, executive director of the Allegany County Library System. “It was like every day another breathtaking piece of the puzzle would fall into place.”

Into the digital age

Is that a glass tree growing on the wall of the children's section, or is it a set of shiny shark teeth? A jungle rich with magic? Let your imagination decide.

That's what libraries have always been about.

Today, though, a library needs to be more, and South Cumberland is no different. The building is nestled in a neighborhood where 10,000 people are within a mile's walk, where railyards and factories once flourished but where today too many have seen those jobs slip away.

So, Murphy & Dittenhafer Architects set their sights on a solution.

Rows of computers stand ready to aid in the job search, likely providing some locals their only access to the Internet. An expanded meeting room means more opportunity for seminars and other programs that offer valuable knowledge. And look down at your chair— use that plug to charge your phone while you wait to get the call.

That's design, only deeper.

You'll find it in Murphy & Dittenhafer Architects' large-scale projects in and around Baltimore - and in York County, Pennsylvania - but also inside a little library tucked away in the Allegany Mountains. The seeds are sown through conversation, creativity, and careful consideration. And from there, the idea grows.

Soon enough, it blooms in a community.

The South Cumberland Library joins a growing list of other recent community libraries designed by Murphy & Dittenhafer Architects - including new buildings in Smithsburg, Boonsboro and Hancock, Maryland in addition to similar facilities in Stewartstown and Biglerville, Pennsylvania. Each onecreating a new “sense of place”  and unique connections to the people and heritage of a small town or village.  

"We're talking about really filling a critical need here, and that makes this enjoyable to be a part of," Grove says. “Local branch libraries like this, they're always one of my favorite type of projects."