Celebrate Banned Books Week: September 18 – 24

The banner image depicts a rainbow-colored series of birds launching into flight against a backdrop of open books.

by Sahana C.

Banned Books Week is a party. We celebrate our unfettered access to whichever books we choose.

The national theme of Banned Books Week stands firm in its message against censorship. When it began in 1982, Banned Books Week was not a protest, but a reaction to an increasing number of book challenges. Banned Books Week is a space away from the intensity of media speculation and divisive press coverage.

The picture depicts the places where book challenges take place: school libraries, public libraries, schools, and academic/other. In the upper right hand corner is a graphic of rainbow-colored birds launching into flight, and the entire background is a faint depiction of open books.

The American Library Association’s Office of Intellectual Freedom tracked almost 1,600 books that were challenged in 2021 alone, but Banned Books Week is not when those challenges are contested. It is, in the words of the official website, a time for, “shared support of the freedom to seek and to express ideas, even those some consider unorthodox or unpopular.”

The ALA is one of the loudest proponents of this effort as it supports the declaration from libraries to wholly commit to combat disinformation, promote the perspectives of historically excluded groups, and increase access to information. This is the mandate of public libraries, written into the mission statement of Howard County Library System: “We deliver high-quality public education for all.”

It is our responsibility to provide access to materials that encourage conversation and provoke thought; every addition to our collection is a choice, and decisions are never neutral. HCLS continues this practice with its Brave Voices, Brave Choices initiative. We have committed to not hiding hard conversations from our community. Discussions about appropriateness usually center the idea of balance, meaning we amplify the voices of people from historically excluded, marginalized, and unheard communities. Libraries cannot be neutral in this effort toward radical inclusion.

The picture is a rainbow-colored infographic of words and phrases cited in 2021 censorship reports as reasons for book challenges. In the upper right corner is a graphic of rainbow-colored birds launching into flight, and the entire background is a faint depiction of open books.

Kelvin Watson, director of libraries in Broward County, Florida, put it well: “Claiming neutrality endangers us as an institution by resulting in an unconscious adoption of the values of the dominant political model and framework… (w)e cannot be neutral on social and political issues that impact our customers because…these social and political issues impact us as well.” While a policy of neutrality appears to be equal, it is not equitable – it does not allow for different facets of our community to see themselves represented meaningfully, without stereotype, by people who share their life experiences.

We, as a library, stand to protect the brave voices who write, publish, and lead us into a more equitable future. We, in turn, make the brave choice to stand against the idea that we can be neutral in the battle against misinformation. The library is a steward of knowledge, led for and by the community it serves.

So, join the party! Everyone’s invited.

Sahana is an Instructor and Research Specialist at the Savage Branch. She enjoys adding books to her “want to read” list despite having a mountain of books waiting for her already.

Clarksville Youth Care Group Appreciation Project

The photograph depicts several of the kits with school bus themes, including handmade cards with school bus illustrations, and chocolate and trail mix bars.

by Nancy T.

It’s back to school time! Not just for students, but for teachers and bus drivers as well. To celebrate this year’s return, more than 70 local students from the Clarksville Youth Care Group (CYCG) worked hard all summer to create teacher and bus driver appreciation kits. These kits consist of a hand-sewn school-themed pencil pouch and a handmade thank-you card, school supplies (pen, pencil, notepad, bookmark, etc.), snacks, and a bunch of goodies. Funded by a Howard County Innovation Grant, CYCG has made approximately 850 kits. They have delivered the kits to 45 HCPSS schools as well as the HCPSS transportation office. The students received a lot of positive feedback; many teachers wrote thank-you notes to the group and said that receiving the handmade kit full of nice goodies has been an encouraging start to a new school year. It is a wonderful way to let teachers know their work is appreciated. The group still has limited kits to distribute, so interested teachers or staff can request them here.

The photograph depicts a handmade card with a sunflower, a back-to-school-themed kit, and some of the items from the kit, including a pen, pencil, notepaper, a trail mix bar, and origami birds.

CYCG was founded by two River Hill High School students, senior Arthur Wang and sophomore Amanda Wang, at the beginning of the pandemic in 2020, with many students becoming involved in community service projects organized by CYCG. The group proudly donated 3,660 heavy-duty reusable face shields to hospitals, clinics, dental offices, and first responders in 2020. Last year, the group made Teacher Care Kits and donated them to 64 HCPSS schools. The kit consisted of a handmade school-themed mask, an ear saver to relieve ear stress, a mask lanyard, a thank-you card, and a mask filter. The kits supported teachers physically and mentally, winning a national award for their efforts.

The photograph shows the display case at Miller Branch with a selection of the teacher appreciation kits as well as photographs of the students at work creating them.

You can visit the display of CYCG’s work, showcased at Miller Branch, until September 30. For more information, visit www.clarksvilleyouthcaregroup.org

Nancy T. is an instructor and research specialist and the display coordinator at Miller Branch. When she’s not in the branch, you’ll find her in the swimming pool or out walking in the fresh air.

Staff Favorites from the Art Education Collection

Sisters in Link by Charles Bibbs: Five women dressed in red with patterned skirts and colored tights looking at each other with their arms linked.
Sisters in Link by Charles Bibbs

by Emily B.

October is National Arts & Humanities Month, so I decided to ask my Central Branch teammates about their favorite artists and art works from the Art Education Collection. Here’s what they had to say:

April and Wendy love Van Gogh. April’s favorite work is Starry Night. She appreciates “his colors and his unique brushstrokes. You definitely know a Van Gogh when you see one.” Wendy’s favorite work is Farmhouse in Provence. She says, “I’ve always loved Van Gogh because of the bright colors he used, the soft focus, and the imperfect, rustic style. His work is very emotional.”

Angela and Rita are big fans of Charles Bibbs. Rita applauds Bibbs’ “powerful cross-cultural statements,” “the [breathtaking] colors and details,” and “[his promotion of] African American culture.” Angela’s favorite piece is Sisters in Link. She enjoys “the bright vibrant colors of the dresses of the piece, and the dramatic flair of the ladies’ poses,” as well as how the ladies appear “full of life and joy.” She notes how Bibbs creates an “illusion of movement.”

Brandon loves the Art Education Collection. His favorite piece is San Francisco Cable Car, Rain by Judy Reed. He says, “It captures the essence of the Bay area, [the beauty] of Northern California, and illustrates the significance [of] the cable car transportation system.”

Cherise and Angie enjoy Ernie Barnes. Angie’s favorite piece is Uptown Downtown. She was instantly hooked on Barnes when she saw Marvin Gaye’s I Want You album cover, which features his most famous piece, The Sugar Shack. She describes his art as “kinetic and mesmerizing” and continues, “The painting is in constant motion and makes you want to know more about the people in it, where they are going, and where they have been.” Cherise favors Sam & Sidney from Barnes. She says, “I wonder what they are talking about and hope that they are being open-minded in their debate. I am intrigued by the dialogue that Barnes is creating between an African American artist born into a segregated culture and his subjects from a very different background.”

Floral mosaic with a yellow flower, green leaves, and bright blue accents.

Lami’s favorite piece is Carol Murray’s photograph entitled Baltimore Cookie House Tour. She says, “The piece evokes feelings of comfort and peace for me. The intricate mosaic design…brings to mind being curled up near a fireplace with heat from the flames gently lulling you to sleep.” Lami appreciates that this piece gives her the opportunity to admire both the photographic technique and the mosaic work.

Hannah enjoys the mystery of Yasuo Kuniyoshi’s Little Joe with Cow. The painting is a great source of debate among Central teammates, Hannah explains. “Do we find him creepy or cute? How did the cow become triangular? Who keeps putting him back in storage instead of on display?!” Hannah looks back at Kuniyoshi’s life: “[he] immigrated [to] the U.S. [from Japan] at age 16, was never given full U.S. citizenship, and was placed under house arrest following the attack on Pearl Harbor.” She notes that, “while this artwork was completed 18 years prior… I believe these aspects of Kuniyoshi’s childhood and adult life in the U.S. shed new perspective on little Joe – a small boy in a dark atmosphere leaning on his cow for support.”

You can find (and borrow) your favorites at Central and Glenwood Branches.

Emily is an Instructor & Research Specialist at the Central Branch. She enjoys reading, listening to music, and re-watching old seasons of Survivor.

The ERC Belongs to You and Me

by Cherise T.

On your next journey to the Central Branch, promise you will climb to the top floor and venture beyond the computers to the Equity Resource Center, established in 2021. The ERC is a place for community events and a treasure trove of classic and cutting-edge books, audiobooks, movies, television series, and music. A collection of materials you’ve always wanted to read, watch, and discuss. 

Book shelves at the Equity Resource Center, with art to borrow resting on top. Photo also shows swirled-patterned carpet and wood.

Recently, I had the opportunity to shift the positioning of ERC materials. I was up to my elbows and down on my knees handling the books, CDs, and DVDs. This is a librarian’s paradise, being among new copies of books I’ve read and can barely wait to read. I wanted to open almost every book and peruse the first pages. This was a physical task, however; the goal was moving and organizing, not intellectualizing. Just as when I’m shelving materials or directing a customer to a topic area, my job at that moment is not to indulge my interests but to engage others’ curiosity. It’s rough, though, staying focused in the ERC when I’m surrounded by all the intriguing titles, many that have been past favorites, shelves of those that I’ve heard others rave about, and new publications that I’m excited to discover. 

Honestly, I’m continually surprised by the ERC. The diversity of voices and perspectives in the works seems impossible. While the classic titles attest to the reality that marginalized communities with strong voices have always existed, the scope and depth of contemporary publications feels like hope. Publishers are expanding their willingness to broadcast unique perspectives, and exploring these materials in one place collapses time, as if we have always been privileged to share in each other’s experiences and dreams. 

Undesign the Redline

The ERC fills me with gratitude. I am thankful to be alive at a time when I can work and live in a place where the library system offers such wonders to all who choose to enter the doors. I am thankful when I realize how many of the DVDs are multi-award-winning, popular films and that so many of the books are past and current best sellers. These works offer engagement, information, and entertainment to those whose experiences are worlds apart from the authors’. They provide a shared experience for those who want to feel they are not alone. The creators of these artistic riches are of different races and classes. They come from many countries, practice a spectrum of religions, view the world from differently-abled perspectives, and live with distinctive gender identity and sexual orientation. The materials challenge stereotypes, open our minds, provoke strong opinions. 

Visual characteristics that are plain for all to see do not define who we are or how we should be treated. We wouldn’t want to, nor should we have to, wear signs identifying the people we are or are not. No person or artist owes us their story. Nevertheless, history and narrative have been abundantly gifted to us in the ERC, presenting opportunities to read, watch, listen, and learn. The fiction and nonfiction, poetry and prose, exist to be soaked up, broaden world views, and spread inclusive perspectives. 

Times may seem grim with two steps back for every one step forward. Sometimes I despair for the health of our children, our planet, and our marginalized communities. The ERC, though, attests to the fact that despite the pain in the world, forward strides have been accomplished. The sanctuary of the ERC may be in the back of the top floor of the Central Branch, but it is not distant. It is accessible and evolving as we speak.  

Welcome to the library, the community gathering place you know, and the oasis of ideas and opportunities beyond what you’ve imagined. 

Cherise Tasker is an Adult Instructor and Research Specialist at the Central Branch. When not immersed in literary fiction, Cherise can be found singing along to musical theater soundtracks. 

HiJinx at the ALA Conference

by Addison and Simone

The co-hosts of HCLS’ podcast, HiJinx, recall attending the annual American Library Association Conference in June. They had a great time, and hope you enjoy the podcast episode from the convention floor.

Three HCLS staff members in a photo with the Eiffel Tower behind them, says "Greetings from ALA 2022."

FROM ADDISON

I was at the ALA Conference to gather soundbites for the podcast. Coming from a career in the private sector, I could only pull from my recent experience at a smaller conference. I was concerned with capturing enough exciting material to appeal to our podcast’s audience. Nonetheless, I arrived, stepped on the escalator, and descended to the exhibit floor. I glanced out in astonishment. The conference floor was expansive, large enough to fit more commercial airplanes than one could count on their fingers.

ALA provides public, academic, government, and special libraries with programming, tools, and services. The 2022 annual convention was attended by 7,738 librarians, along with 5,431 exhibitors, publishers, and authors. My concern about filling a podcast episode became replaced with where to begin and what to cut.

We began our interviews, and as I’ve become accustomed to in the industry, people were friendly and willing to share their stories. This made the experience feel like we were catching up with old friends and not pointing a recorder at strangers. Before I knew it, it was nearing the end of the exhibit and time to go home to produce the podcast.

When listening to the episode, you will hear author interviews and publishers’ discussions, as well as learn about valuable vendors and services. In addition, you will get a glimpse at the inner working of the library world, one that I am excited to be a part of.

FROM SIMONE

This June when I had the opportunity to go to the ALA Conference, our team was in the company of other library professionals and literary enthusiasts. The event featured guest speakers and authors, exhibits, and vendors.  

As first-timers, it was not easy to imagine the enormity of this conference. By the time we reached the vicinity of the convention center (while circling for good parking in the city on a busy Sunday), the sidewalks were bustling with attendees from all around the country. Buses rolled by wrapped in branding from related literary and tech companies, as increased crossing guards and security manned the busy intersections. So, we were in the right place – check! After making our way to the building, through COVID-19 screening, and check-in, it was time to hit the exhibit floor with our roving podcast.

We were in search of what’s now, new, and next in libraries. Since we met up at the Mango Languages booth – and posed in “Paris” at their green screen photo-op – it was only fitting to begin our interviews right there. HCLS customers have access to this convenient (and highest-rated) language-learning app.  

Next up was a spirited chat with another Library vendor, Hoopla, a media streaming platform and probably one of HCLS’ biggest cheerleaders. We continued to wade through the sea of booths and conduct interviews with an array of vendors, authors, publishers, and a couple of staff members we bumped into along the way.  

To hear directly from these dedicated individuals and organizations who help us bring high-quality education and services to the community, tune into Episode 48 of the HiJinx Podcast and explore the Library’s website for access to each resource.

Happy listening!  

Visit us at the Howard County Fair

STEAM Machine with blue awning deployed sits on a grassy patch, with a popup tent next to it.

Do you love the fair? Deep fried everything? Rides? Awards for livestock and hand-crafts? What’s not to love?

This year, as you come in the front gates, look for Howard County Library System’s new STEAM Machine. Stop by to participate in a STEAM-related activity, watch a demo, or take a tour of our new (air conditioned!) mobile unit. The 33’ Farber diesel bus features a climate-controlled classroom that seats twelve students. It is equipped with Wi-Fi, laptop computers, two 49” LED TVs, sound system, video production equipment, materials, and supplies, including science kits to conduct experiments and complete projects. A 55” LCD monitor and two awnings allow classes to be taught and activities conducted outside.

As the mobile classroom goes out into our community, students can borrow books and other materials on STEAM subjects. Our goal is to transform students into scientists investigating new phenomena and engineers designing solutions to real-world problems.

Tonya Aikens, President & CEO of HCLS, notes, “Howard County Library System is coordinating with community partners to schedule STEAM Machine classes across the county. Our goal is to bring opportunities for hands-on STEAM education to students from under-resourced communities and families who, for an array of reasons, are often unable to come to our branches.”

HCLS instructors will teach most classes with contributions from scientists and engineers from the Maryland STEAM community, who will be recruited for special events. HCLS is collaborating with community partners to determine student aspirations and needs, identify community locations for STEAM Machine visits, and schedule classes and events. 

The STEAM Machine is funded in part by an American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) Grant through the Institute of Museum and Library Services and administered by the Maryland State Library Agency.

See you at the Fair!

Equity Resource Collection and New Brave Stories Exhibit

by Ash B. and Christie L.

Enrich your summer at the Equity Resource Center! Visit for the books, movies, music – and exhibits. The space upstairs at Central Branch purposefully has plenty of room for exhibits that focus on equity issues. If you missed our previous one, Undesign the Redline, you can still view a video tour on YouTube. Make time to see the new show and attend the related classes:

BRAVE STORIES EXHIBIT 

View of Brave Voices display at Central Branch, header read Story informs, heals, and ins

Stories shape narratives. Narratives shape perceptions. Perceptions shape actions. 

Whether they are told around a campfire, around a kitchen table, or online, stories have the power to move people to tears of sadness or tears of joy and to action. At Howard County Library System, we are a home for brave stories and a place to be heard. We provide a platform for people to tell their stories. This helps to better inform perceptions, develop new narratives, and re-position equity as the ideal state of being from which everyone benefits.  

HCLS is a safe space for racial equity work, but real progress begins with you. You have the power to lead, share, and connect. As we move forward as a community in Howard County, we have the chance to extend equitable treatment to those around us. How are you helping to improve life in Howard County?  

Start by making room for new stories. Visit the new Brave Stories exhibit in the Equity Resource Center at the Central Branch. Read about your neighbors’ experiences. Take the time to listen to their Brave Stories—and share your own. 

We invite you to respond to the exhibit in a series of art workshops, each using a different material, with facilitators from Notre Dame of Maryland University’s Art Therapy Department. Attend one or both workshops: Tuesday, Jul 26 and Thursday, Aug 4.

We also invite you to share your own stories in a facilitated circle. Bring your experiences and insights, listening ears, and an open mind and heart to one or more sessions: Wednesday, Aug 3; Saturday, Aug 13, and Saturday, Aug 20.

EQUITY RESOURCE COLLECTION

If you haven’t already read it, you might want to check out my previous post about the Equity Resource Collection.

Adult Fiction 

A collage of adult novels found in the Equity Resource Collection.

The second floor at Central Branch houses the adult fiction of the Equity Resource Collection, along with its adult nonfiction, DVDs, and CDs. More than 900+ adult fiction titles span all genres, including classics, bestsellers, contemporary fiction, historical fiction, romance, mystery, fantasy, and science fiction. 

Like other areas of the Equity Resource Collection, some of these titles specifically center equity issues such as racism, whereas others feature diverse characters and authors. Whatever genre or style of novel you enjoy, there is a great read for you here. One of my favorites is Open Water by Caleb Azumah Nelson, which I actually reviewed in-depth in a previous blog post. If you like poetic and tender novels, this is a must-read. 

Adult Nonfiction 

Three race and gender titles found in the Equity Resource Collection: Anti-Racist Ally, Demystifying Disability, and Gender: Your Guide

As excited as I am about fiction, I’m even more interested in the nonfiction section – partially because of how many of these titles are exclusive to the Equity Resource Collection. While these items can be requested for pickup at any HCLS branch, browsing in person offers the opportunity to find an amazing book more by chance. 

When you head into the Equity Resource Center, the nonfiction collection rests to the right. You can find introductory guides to equity issues, history books, academic texts, memoirs and biographies, art books, cookbooks, and more.  

For folks who are beginning to explore these topics, I recommend: 

For readers who are ready to delve deeper, some terrific title: 

Audio-Visual 

A collage of movies found in the Equity Resource Collection.

Are you more of a film lover than a reader? Well, no worries. The ERC has you covered, too.

From indie films to big-budget productions, you have a variety of choices from multicultural movies and movies that center Black history. While most titles are for adults and teens, there are kid-friendly favorites such as Moana and Coco as well. 

If you’re interested in TV series or nonfiction DVDs, look for the shelving close to adult nonfiction. With titles from distributors such as HBO and PBS, including Stonewall Uprising and The Central Park Five, this section is worth checking out if you appreciate a good documentary. 

For the music lover, the ERC includes CDs, shelved next to the nonfiction DVDs, from artists past and present, across genres. For the pop fan, check out Sawayama by Rina Sawayama, a contemporary singer-songwriter who is Japanese-British and bisexual.

If you like rock, blues, soul, or gospel, a must-listen is Shout Sister Shout by Sister Rosetta Tharpe, “The Godmother of Rock’N’Roll,” who pioneered music in the 30s, 40s and 50s by combining electric guitar with spiritual lyrics – providing the foundations for subsequent artists like Chuck Berry and Elvis Presley. 

Whether you’re a fan of Latin music or someone in your family still can’t get enough of the Encanto soundtrack, check out Cumbiana by Carlos Vives, the beloved Colombian singer-songwriter whose song “Colombia, Mi Encanto” plays at the end of the 2021 Disney hit movie. 

Think our collection is missing an important title? Go to hclibrary.org/contact-us/ and “Make a purchase suggestion” – after you submit the online form, it will be reviewed by one of our materials selectors as a potential addition.  

Ash is an Instructor & Research Specialist at Central Branch and is a co-facilitator for Reads of Acceptance, HCLS’ first LGBTQ-focused book club. Their favorite place to read is spread out on a blanket under the shade of the tree. 

Christie is the Director of Communication and Partnerships for Howard County Library System. She loves walking through the network of pathways in Columbia, sitting on the beach, and cheering for the Baltimore Orioles and Texas Aggies football team.

College Readiness Book Drive

A stack of AP and SAT books with spines showing their subjects.

By Chloe M.

Every high school in Howard County offers Advanced Placement (AP) courses in English, science, mathematics, social studies, computer science, world language, art, and research. Students who score well on an AP examination at the end of the course may be granted AP status or college credit upon entering a college or university. Unfortunately, as of 2018, a gap of 35 percent was recorded between the largest Howard County AP test-taking student group, Asian students, and the smallest AP test-taking student group, Black students. Additionally, in January 2021, the Howard County Board of Education released numbers showing that by student group, Black/African American and Hispanic/Latinx students and students receiving Free and Reduced-price Meals (FARM) continue to have lower percentages of AP exams with passing scores of a 3 or higher than their peers.

So what can we do to help? As part of the Library’s commitment to advancing racial equity in our community, we invite you to donate new or gently used AP and SAT test prep books. We look to ensure all youth feel confident in their ability to pursue college-level studies successfully – which can lead to higher-paying jobs and reduce financial stress later in life.

The HCLS College Readiness Book Drive takes place at all library branches through August 15. Collection boxes are located inside each building to collect new or gently used college readiness (SAT and AP) practice books. These books will then be redistributed in the fall along with a YOU BELONG resource page to encourage a new narrative for those who have been discouraged from pursuing college-level courses.

While AP courses are offered in the Howard County educational system without cost, the tests cost approximately 96 dollars per exam last year, and test guides were prices at $30 each (depending on the subject). Financial logistics can be a major deterrent for students from low-income backgrounds hoping to access practice materials that lead to higher-scoring exams.

The Howard County Board of Education wrote in their meeting agenda that 11,157 exams were taken by local high school students in 2020. Many of these students purchase books each year to review, and as soon as the school year ends, they throw away or abandon the lightly-used test prep books. I personally have five on my shelf, with two being brand-new and unused. Consider donating AP and SAT books that students in your life no longer need!

I believe that, with your help of timely donations, this initiative can have a long-lasting affect on our community both in reducing waste and supporting students on their journey to post-secondary education.

Chloe McGeehan is a recent River Hill High School graduate. Through the DukeEngage Gateway summer program, she is working to facilitate collaborations that generate behavioral health resources for residents of all socioeconomic backgrounds. She enjoys trail running, spending time with family and friends, painting, and making music.

Celebrating Juneteenth

Juneteenth: Freedom Day appears inside a yellow square atop swashes of color in red, black, green, and yellow.

by Brandon B.

Juneteenth is considered one of the longest-running African American holidays. Juneteenth (short for “June Nineteenth”) is the day in 1865 that federal troops traveled to Galveston, Texas to free all enslaved people living in the state. The troops’ arrival came a full two and a half years after the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation, which abolished slavery in U.S. states that were part of the union. While other citizens were freed from bondage and captivity, the citizens of Texas endured continued hardship and pain. On June 17, 2021, President Joe Biden established Juneteenth as a federal holiday.

We should not look at Juneteenth as simply a day off from work, but a celebration of freedom, peace, and a continued fight for social equity and equality. Though Juneteenth is a day in which we recognize the end of slavery in the U.S., we must also recognize other injustices and freedoms that are worth fighting for. Racism has been a pervasive and powerful tool in preventing minorities from advancing to elite status and higher growth in society. It took one hundred years after Juneteenth to sign the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which allowed people of color the franchise. Even now, gerrymandering and voter suppression efforts seek to prevent people of color from exercising their right to vote. We continue to witness violence against minorities through law enforcement and vigilantism.

We must answer these questions: Are people really free? Has America freed all its citizens from inequality or are we just repeating history? In order to make progress, we must study our dark past. We can change laws and policies, but America has to first change its heart through empathy and understanding.

A great place to visit and study subject matters like Juneteenth is your public library. HCLS has a variety of books and audio-visual materials in our new Equity Resource Center located at the Central Branch. The Equity Resource Center highlights the contributions of individuals from different cultures and select social groups. Let’s continue to serve others and show empathy towards the less fortunate. Happy Juneteenth, America!

Brandon is a Customer Service Specialist at Central Branch who loves reading, football, and taking nice long walks around his neighborhood.

Equity Resource Center – Children’s and Teen Collections 

Wide view of the upstairs at Central Branch of Howard County Library System, where the Equity Resource Center is housed.

by Ash B.

Enrich your summer with entertainment and educational materials from the Equity Resource Collection!

The Equity Resource Collection (ERC) launched in October 2021 in response to growing community demand for materials related to racial equity, especially in the wake of George Floyd’s murder and the increase in mainstream attention to #BlackLivesMatter and systemic racism. 

The special collection was created along with the Equity Resource Center, a 700 square foot space located on the second floor of the Central Branch, directly behind the public access computers. An intentional space for learning, healing, and discussing issues, the Center also provides room for thoughtful exhibits (such as Undesign the Redline). This area houses thousands of new ERC materials, including movies, documentaries, and music CDs, as well as fiction and nonfiction books and audiobooks.  

While HCLS works hard to maintain a diverse, balanced general collection, the ERC is specifically focused on centering equity, diversity, and inclusive representation, including but not limited to race/ethnicity and racism, immigration, disability, gender, and sexual orientation. By concentrating these titles in a specific place, the ERC serves as a resource if you are interested in books on one of these topics but aren’t sure where to start. I find this particularly beneficial when browsing the children’s ERC and all the nonfiction ERC shelves.

Some titles in the ERC are duplicated in our general collection, particularly popular titles, whereas other titles exclusively belong to the Equity Resource Collection. However, all ERC titles can be requested for pickup at any HCLS branch – which we highly encourage!

If you visit the Central Branch, you might notice three “Equity Resource Center” areas, with materials located in the children’s and teen area in addition to the upstairs section. All ERC DVDs, however, are located in the main Equity Resource Center along with the adult materials, including family-friendly movies like Moana.

Children’s 

Located on the main floor behind and around the research desk, the children’s ERC contains chapter books, picture books, and nonfiction books for a variety of ages and interests.

The collection provides exceptional “mirrors, window, and sliding glass doors” for young readers – allowing youth to discover books about and by people who look like them, as well as to learn about people who may be different from them. Some of these titles are clearly informational in nature – defining terminology, explaining concepts, and narrating history. These range from textbook-like materials for tweens to picture books for the earliest of readers! 

A pastel background shows four young folx, with the two on either side holding plants that fountain with all sorts of flowers and artistry. One person is sitting in a wheelchair with a ukulele.

One example of the latter is It Feels Good to Be Yourself: A Book About Gender Identity, written by Theresa Thorn and illustrated by Noah Grigni. This gorgeously illustrated book shows examples of gender identity – boy, girl, both, neither – in a way that is nuanced but extremely clear for children (and adults!) to understand. It is simple without being oversimplified, which is an excellent achievement! If you’ve ever wondered “how do I explain gender to a child?” – or if you are new to learning about trans and nonbinary gender identities – then this book is for you! 

The Equity Resource Collection also includes children’s books that aren’t necessarily educational in the didactic sense but are still rich sources of learning, with stories about a wide variety of experiences, identities, and cultures. This is the window and doors part of what I was talking about earlier.

A young girl with dark hair and brown skin sits on a suitcase between a house in the a tropical seeting and an urban environment, with a plane overhead.

One of my favorite recent reads is Home Is In Between written by Mitali Perkins, illustrated by Lavanya Naidu. In this picture book, a young Indian girl moves to the U.S. with her parents, while their extended family remains in India. Vibrant and heart-warming, Home Is In Between tenderly depicts the immigrant experience by conveying the excitement of new things and the challenges of feeling ‘in between’ two cultures. The illustrations are gorgeous, too!

Teen 

Also located on the main floor, you will find the Teen ERC in the far right corner, with organization similar to the children’s area. Some teen and adult graphic novels reside on the top left shelf, followed by novels and short story anthologies, then fiction audiobooks, and finally, nonfiction. 

Compilation of: You Should See Me In a Crown that features a young Black girl with natural hair and a tiara drawn on top; Cemetery Boys with two young men standing back-to-back with a mysterious figure in front of a full moon; and We Are Not Free with sketched carachters sitting on a pile of luggage and boxes.

Some of these novels center the high school experience, such as the award-winning You Should See Me in a Crown by Leah Johnson, which follows a poor, queer, Midwestern Black girl’s pursuit of prom queen-dom, in the hope of earning a scholarship. The recipient of a Black-Eyed Susan award, Stonewall Book honor, and one of TIME’s best 100 YA books of all time, this title has earned high praise – it’s a sweet, joyous read that evokes the spirit of great teen movies. 

Other titles delve into cultural practices, such as Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas, which brings together traditions from various Latinx cultures in a supernatural, urban fantasy setting – along with a gay rom-com storyline for a trans male protagonist. With its humor, heart, mystery-adventure, and magic, this is one of my personal favorite books (also available as an eBook and an eAudiobook from Libby/OverDrive)!

Fantastic historical fiction novels also address legacies of injustice, such as the incarceration of Japanese-American citizens during World War II, as depicted in We Are Not Free by Traci Chee. The granddaughter of Japanese-Americans who were imprisoned as teenagers at that time, Chee felt personally invested in bringing attention to this oft-neglected history. With many moments inspired by the stories of her relatives, this is an incredibly powerful story about fear, hope and resilience. 

Compilation of: The Burning which features yellow flame motif and red lettering; The Stonewall Riots which features illustrated crowd and rainbow sky; A Disability History of the United States which features seven photographs of people with physical ailments; Trouble Maker for Justice features a young Bayard Rustin against a faded photo of a protest; Protest features Olympic Medalist Ibtihaj Muhammad in her fencing gear; Rolling Warrior features the illustration of a white woman in a wheelchair holding a sign that says Rights Now!

Of course, there are also excellent nonfiction titles to help you learn about history. Some delve into specific events, such as The Burning: Black Wall Street and the Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921 (Young Readers’ edition) by Tim Madigan and Stonewall Riots: Coming Out in the Streets by Gayle E. Pitman. Other titles use a broader lens to approach the history of marginalized people, such as A Disability History of the United States by Kim E. Nielsen. There’s also important history to be learned in biographies and memoirs of icons of the past and present, from the Civil Rights organizer Bayard Rustin, to Olympic medalist Ibtihaj Muhammad, to disability rights activist Judith Heumann. 

For aspiring activists, there are books that can serve as guides as well as stories of youth who are speaking out and affecting change today. Kids on the March by Michael G. Long talks about youth protests from the 1903 March of the Mill Children to the recent movements of Black Lives Matter, March for Our Lives, and the Climate Strike. 

There is so much to discover and learn within the Equity Resource Collection! We highly encourage you to come visit if you can… and stay tuned for Part 2 to learn about the other areas of the collection! 

Ash is an Instructor & Research Specialist at Central Branch and is a co-facilitator for Reads of Acceptance, HCLS’ first LGBTQ-focused book club. Their favorite place to read is spread out on a blanket under the shade of the tree.