Home > About > Bill Peak's Library Column > Hope Springs Eternal at the Talbot County Free Library
Maybeth Proskey, née Smithfield, grew up on a small farm outside Trappe. Her parents raised feed corn and soybeans (which her father always called simply “bean”), alternating the crops along with a winter cover of wheat or rye. When she was a little girl, they'd also kept a small flock of sheep, which Maybeth loved, but the sheep were gone by the time she entered first grade.
Maybeth's mother had a large, fragrant garden in which she grew pole beans, tomatoes, squash, spinach, kale, and root vegetables. Maybeth well-remembered working in that garden with a hoe that stood taller than she. By the time she was twelve, Maybeth was riding the tractor along with her dad, helping to till, plant, spray, and harvest field crops. She preferred the tractor to the hoe. There was something about sitting up high in the cab like that, working one's way across a field of seedlings, the bright green sprouts lining up into perfect rows that spread out over the earth like contour lines. She and her father, it seemed, were creating a living topographical map of their land.
After graduating with honors from Easton High School in 2015, Maybeth married her long-time boyfriend, Larry Proskey. Her teachers had hoped she would go on to college, but money was always tight in Maybeth's family, and she and Larry were more interested in someday owning and working a farm of their own.
Larry and Maybeth provided for themselves and little Lance, who was born in 2018, by working at a grocery store in Easton, Larry as an overnight stock clerk and Maybeth as a cashier. With Larry stocking shelves at night and Maybeth ringing up purchases during the day, there was always someone at home to take care of Lance.
Still, they dreamt of that farm.
It was Maybeth that came up with the plan. One week, on her day off, she had taken Lance to the Easton library to introduce him to board books, and while she was there, a staff member told her about the library's eResources, and, in particular, Gale Courses. When Maybeth pointed out that she didn't own a computer, the staff member had told her she would be able to take Gale Courses on the library's free, public computers. Maybeth went home excited.
On her next day off, Maybeth and Larry left little Lance with her mother and returned to the library. There, using side-by-side public computers, they began to study Gale's online offerings. Maybeth found herself interested in the accounting courses Gale offered, which would teach her both double-entry and corporate accounting. Larry was intrigued by the Comptia A+ certification courses, which promised to prepare him for a career in IT. Between the two of them, if they both passed their exams, they believed they'd be able to start a small cottage industry at home that would allow them to begin saving toward the farm.
Reality set in shortly thereafter. Larry tried taking Lance with him to the library during the day to do his coursework, but sitting on the floor in his portable infant car seat, the poor kid would grow irritable and disrupt Larry's concentration. Maybeth, on the other hand, had trouble with time. She worked ten-thirty to six-thirty at the grocery. The library can only stay open late two nights a week, and by the time Maybeth got there, only half an hour remained before the computers turned off. Just about the time Maybeth would be really getting into the evening's lessons, her machine would automatically shut down for the night.
It looked as if the Proskeys dream of owning their own farm would, once again, have to be postponed till some other, vague, hoped-for time. But then, as if in answer to their prayers, a miracle happened: with little fanfare, the Talbot County Free Library began checking out laptop computers and Wi-Fi Hotspots free of charge to their patrons. Maybeth and Larry were among the first to take advantage of this new service. With their Chromebook laptop and the Hotspot they checked out from the library, they were able to work at home, at their own pace, on their Gale coursework. The two of them have already picked out a name for their farm, they're going to call it “Lance's Hope.”
Truth be told, Maybeth Proskey is a fictional character based upon several flesh and blood patrons it's been my privilege to know and work with at the library. For years now I have had to watch people like Maybeth and her husband struggle to get their online job applications filled out, their Gale Course exams completed, or whatever computer work the modern world now demands of them, only to see all their efforts turned to dust when the library's computers automatically shut down 15 minutes before closing. But now, thanks to grants received from the Institute of Museum and Library Services and the Maryland State Library, we're able to offer them the opportunity to do all that work at home using computers and Hotspots they've checked out free of charge from the library.
Sometimes, when people say the world is going to hell in a hand-basket, I think about the Talbot County Free Library and I am filled with hope.
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