Film Femme Phenoms

An Oscar award statuette.

by Cherise T.

The Oscars. The Super Bowl for film lovers and stargazers. Since the 94th Academy Awards and Women’s History Month converge this year, let’s highlight Oscar-winning women. The accomplishments of women in the film industry grow each year as crews’ diversity increases and acting roles encompass a broadened range of realistic characters.

Front and center for many a bibliophile is screenwriting. In 2021 with Promising Young Woman, Emerald Fennell (also known as Camilla in The Crown) became the first woman in 13 years to win for Best Original Screenplay. Fennell also produced and directed. Then travel back to 2007 when Diablo Cody won for Juno. To date, nine women have won in this category, but only five as solo writers; the other three being Sofia Coppola, Lost in Translation; Jane Campion, The Piano; and Callie Khouri, Thelma & Louise.

For Best Director, 2021 also brought an Oscar to a woman, Chloé Zhao, for Nomadland (also a book). Only one other woman has won in this category, Kathryn Bigelow, for The Hurt Locker. Only seven women in total have even been nominated.

Best Costume Design boasts many female winners. Edith Head was nominated 35 times and won eight. For total Oscar nominations and victories, she is surpassed only by Walt Disney. Her winning films are The Heiress, Samson and Delilah, All About Eve, A Place in the Sun, Roman Holiday, Sabrina, Facts of Life (not available), and The Sting. For more recent winners in 2018 and 2019, check out the work of Ruth E. Carter in Black Panther and Jacqueline Durran in Little Women.

Best Supporting Actress has been won more than once by only two women: Dianne Wiest for Hannah and Her Sisters and Bullets over Broadway (not available) and Shelley Winters for The Diary of Anne Frank and A Patch of Blue (available through interlibrary loan). Last year’s winner was the first for a Korean actress, Youn Yuh-jung, in Minari.

Now for the star power that is Best Actress. Katherine Hepburn was nominated 12 times and won a record-setting four: Morning Glory (available through interlibrary loan), Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, The Lion in Winter, and On Golden Pond. Meryl Streep has been nominated a record-setting 17 times for Best Actress, winning twice for Sophie’s Choice (available with an HCLS library card on Kanopy) and The Iron Lady, and nominated four times for Best Supporting Actress, winning for Kramer vs. Kramer. Frances McDormand became a triple champion in 2021 for Nomadland. She also won for Fargo and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.

If you’re a fan of the Academy Awards, enjoy, and be sure to check out these and other noteworthy Oscar winners in the HCLS catalog.

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.

DIY Tools for Spring Needs

The blue Hi circle from the Library's logo lays on the floor surrounded by tools and books from the DIY collection.

by Eric L.

I like all the seasons, I like something beginning, then I grow tired as it persists, and I then I enjoy the start of something different. Autumn is just barely my favorite season. I even love the winter, as well, and then I’m rather happy when it comes to end. (I’m thankful it’s not winter forever, that would be pretty bleak)

I don’t want to get overly philosophical or trite about it, but the rebirth and renewal of spring is a wonderful time of year. Observing the daily greening of nature just makes me feel happy, it is my favorite color.

That said, you may look outside and see your yard, large or small, and it may look a bit drab in early spring. Moreover, there is likely debris in your beds, garden, or yard (e.g., sticks, leaves). I’ll be honest when I was younger, had less patience, and “better” things to do, I used dislike yard work. However, I’ve come to embrace the relaxing nature of yard work, and perhaps the completed product. Keep in mind, there really isn’t a deadline, just pick a nice sunny day and get out there and take it on at your own pace.

The library has so many great tools to lend you (for free!) at the Elkridge DIY Education Center to get most of your outdoor jobs complete. Anyone 21 or older who lives, works, or attends school in Maryland may apply for an HCLS DIY library card at the branch.

Leaf and tine rakes will help you get all the aforementioned yard debris up. We have cordless blowers, so perhaps you can rake less. You can borrow numerous varieties of manual trimmers, tree limb saws, and tree pruners to get all those bushes and trees in shape. We’ll even lend you an extendable (up to 14 feet) pole trimmer to get those high limbs. The battery powered electric hedge trimmers are just wonderful (I’ve literally “cut the cord” on the other style). We even have battery powered string trimmers, if you’d like to clear a small area, or just trim some grass or weeds. You can borrow a variety of shovels for the bushes, flowers, plants, or trees you’d like to plant, replant, or dig up.

I would invest in some garden gloves, or you may just want to literally get your hands dirty, that’s your choice. And, so many other great tools to lend. I’d recommend you stop by, chat with us, and see what we have to offer.

Happy spring!

Eric is a DIY Instructor and Research Specialist at the Elkridge branch. He enjoys reading, films, music, doing nearly anything outside, and people.

Gender Queer: A Memoir by Maia Kobabe

The image shows two characters as mirror images of one another , one in yellow shorts with no shirt and arms outstretched, the other in a blue shirt and blue rolled-up pants, clutching the gem of the pants. Both are up to mid-calf in blue-green water; the "reflected" person has a green-gold forest in the background.

By Ash B. 

When I started working here at the library, my favorite section to get acquainted with was the graphic novel section. One reason for this was the rate at which I could find LGBTQ representation; I’ve joked with friends and colleagues that sometimes I feel I have a ‘sixth sense’ for intuitively knowing whether an artist is queer based on their art style or the design of the book’s cover.  

Sometimes there are subtle clues about the book’s content, and sometimes there is something overtly LGBTQ-related about the cover, title, or summary. Gender Queer: A Memoir by Maia Kobabe (pronouns: e/em/eir) falls into the latter category on all counts. As soon as I heard the title alone, I knew I needed to read it. 

Gender Queer is a memoir, formatted as a graphic novel, that recounts Kobabe’s experiences regarding gender and sexuality throughout eir childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood. At its core, it is a book that addresses what it means, in Kobabe’s personal experience, to be nonbinary, queer, and asexual. As e explains in a Washington Post op-ed, Kobabe primarily wrote this as a way of explaining eir nonbinary identity to eir parents and extended family. However, Kobabe’s story has reached much farther than that, garnering praise from readers, reviewers, and the American Library Association (ALA). 

In my opinion, as a nonbinary reader, Gender Queer is so remarkable because there is nothing else quite like it. Through a talented combination of text and illustration, Kobabe addresses complex intersections of gender and sexuality with such specificity that I was honestly blown away. Never before I had felt so seen and understood by a piece of media. One of my favorite passages addresses the struggle to achieve a balance of ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ gender expression when society is set on placing you on one side of the gender binary. I truly don’t have the words to fully express how meaningful this is to me… so let me share a brief anecdote instead: 

Around the time I was re-reading the book to prepare for this review, one of my (fellow nonbinary) friends texted me regarding a conflict they felt over an article of clothing they wanted to buy because they were concerned it would be read as ‘too feminine.’ Within our text conversation, I sent my friend two panels from the book.  

My friend’s response? They related so much that they started crying in the bathroom on their lunch break at work.

Representation matters. 

Even for those of us within the LGBTQ community who have come to terms with our identities, have community support, and hold privilege (whether it be whiteness, financial stability, ability, etc.) that improves our overall life outcomes – it is still hard to exist in a heteronormative society structured around the gender binary. At best, it is exhausting and invalidating, which still takes a hit to one’s mental health.  

Now imagine being a young person who lacks community support, lacks independence, and is questioning or struggling with accepting their identity. 

Books such as Gender Queer not only educate – they provide invaluable support to queer, trans, and questioning readers who need to see affirming, accurate, and nuanced representation. When we say these books can be a lifeline for readers, that’s not an empty statement; suicidality is significantly higher amongst LGBTQ youth, especially those who are trans, in comparison to their non-LGBTQ counterparts. 

Unfortunately, in the past year there has been a national surge – including in Howard County – in attempted censorship of LGBTQ books in school classrooms and media centers. Gender Queer has been one of the most controversial titles due to its frank discussion of (queer) sexuality and, to a lesser extent, gender dysphoria.  

This trend – the challenging and banning of books that contain content regarding sex, LGBTQ identity, or both – is not new. What is new is the influential role of social media and the internet, which allows far-reaching communication between book challengers and can create even more oppositional fervor towards the books that they have deemed “obscene,” “pornographic,” and so on. 

One of the problems with this overall pattern, however, is it increases divisiveness in public discourse. Parents, students, educators, librarians, and policymakers need to discuss these topics with the nuance, open-mindedness, and compassion necessary to truly educate and uplift youth. Instead, we are faced with a proliferation of outrage that doesn’t “protect” anyone – least of all LGBTQ youth. 

Some opponents are unapologetic in their homophobic and transphobic motivations, quite literally demonizing anything they hear is LGBTQ-related. (Do I need to explain further why these messages are extremely harmful to LGBTQ folks?) Other opponents claim they have no problem with queer-affirming books, but take issue with the books that contain passages regarding sex. I can understand where these folks are coming from – however, I would push back against the idea that teens need to be shielded from the type of “sexual content” that is in Gender Queer. This book isn’t meant to titillate – it is meant to inform, based on Kobabe’s own experiences of adolescence and young adulthood. 

So, before jumping to the conclusion that this book is inappropriate for high schoolers, consider Kobabe’s perspective: 

“It’s very hard to hear people say ‘This book is not appropriate to young people’ when it’s like, I was a young person for whom this book would have been not only appropriate, but so, so necessary. There are a lot of people who are questioning their gender, questioning their sexuality and having a real hard time finding honest accounts of somebody else on the same journey. There are people for whom this is vital and for whom this could maybe even be lifesaving.” 

Kobabe’s work gives language to some of the complexities that lie at the intersections of gender and sexuality. And with representation of asexuality and nonbinary genders still in short supply, Gender Queer is a much-needed addition. Mainstream narratives about LGBT people in the past few decades have often represented people who have “always known” they were transgender or “knew since they were three years old” that they were gay. But many of us do not have that experience. Many of us are in the dark about our true selves, until someone shines a light on all the possibilities of what queer existence can look like. Gender Queer has and will continue to have that positive impact on teens and adults alike.  

I hope this review will encourage you to see the value in this book for a variety of readers, LGBTQ or not. I urge you to read the book for yourself – and truly reflect on it. Print copies of Gender Queer: A Memoir can be requested to borrow here.  

Want to skip the waitlist? Your HCLS account also grants you access to the eBook version of Gender Queer on hoopla, a platform that allows titles to be streamed immediately or downloaded to devices for offline enjoyment later. For assistance with hoopla, view the tutorial on our website, visit your local branch, or reach out to us with your questions. 

Ash is an Instructor & Research Specialist at Central Branch and is a co-facilitator for Reads of Acceptance, HCLS’ first LGBTQ-focused book club. This time of year, they are especially fond of reading while cuddling with their golden retriever and sipping hot cocoa or tea.

Ernie Barnes: From Athlete to Artist

A painting by Ernie Barnes, The View, which showcases three African American women dressed in drapey formal dresses looking out at water and an urban skyline. The viewer only sees the women's elegant forms from behind as they are framed by red curtains. The palette is all golds and reds.
The View by Ernie Barnes

by Emily B.
Ernie Barnes was born in Durham, North Carolina in 1938, amidst harsh Jim Crow segregation laws. His love and appreciation for art was sparked at an early age. Young Barnes often accompanied his mother at work, where she oversaw the household of a prominent attorney. This early exposure to art proved to leave a lasting impact on Barnes.

Though art remained an important outlet throughout his early years, Barnes discovered a talent for football in high school. He attended college on an athletic scholarship (studying art, of course) and went on to play football professionally for five seasons. Much of his early work focused on his teammates. His athleticism had a marked influence on his art style, which was characterized by figures with closed eyes and elongated bodies. In an interview, Barnes recounted how a mentor told him “to pay attention to what my body felt like in movement. Within that elongation, there’s a feeling, an attitude and expression. I hate to think had I not played sports what my work would look like.”

After moving on from professional football, Barnes’ art became less sports-focused. He was often influenced and inspired by the communities and the people he interacted with most – ranging from depictions of Black Southern life (seen in pieces like Uptown Downtown and Each One, Teach One) to the Jewish community of Fairfax, California (seen in Sam & Sidney). Sugar Shack, far and away one of Barnes’ most popular paintings, has a storied history. The famous work, which depicts a jazz club packed with dancers, was painted in 1971 but reworked twice for famous clientele. First for use in the opening credits of Norman Lear’s Good Times and a second time to create a cover for Marvin Gaye’s album I Want You.

Though he passed in 2009, Barnes’ cultural impact lives on. His journey from a childhood in the Jim Crow-era south to becoming one of the first athletes with a celebrated career in art is impressive and inspiring. Several of Barnes’ paintings are available to borrow through the Art Education Collection at the Central and Glenwood Branches. Young readers may enjoy Between the Lines: How Ernie Barnes Went from the Football Field to the Art Gallery by Sandra Neil Wallace.

Emily is a Customer Service Specialist at the Central Branch. She enjoys reading, listening to music, and re-watching old seasons of Survivor.

New Year’s Resolutions, The Empire Strikes Back, and The Great Gatsby 

A close up shot of Yoda with his eye closed and one hand out in front of him, all in greens and blues.

By Eric L.

Well, it’s the new year!

The last two years have been a bit of a…(Fill in the blank with whatever you’d like here). Personally, I’ve spent the last two weeks at home since my spouse and kids have all had very mild cases of COVID, thankfully! That said, I like a new beginning, and I’ve always liked the idea of a new year as a new start, even if the calendar year is all a human construct. Over the years around this time, I’ve read the articles about new year’s resolutions. Normally the crux of these pieces is how and why they fail, recipes for how to set “achievable” goals, and the like. Frankly, I find all these articles pessimistic. I won’t allow anyone to convince me it’s not a constructive endeavor to try to improve something about one’s life. Moreover, I’m certainly going to dismiss the platitudes espoused in certain George Lucas films about “do, or do not, there is no try.” (It is good film by the way, and you can borrow it from us. Although I’d argue that the best scenes involve the raw guttural noises and acting of Peter Mayhew as Chewbacca.).

At any rate, trying is really important in my opinion! For example, let’s say you want to exercise more and get in great “shape” (a common new year’s resolution). I think if you start walking around your neighborhood, and don’t end up on the cover of some fitness magazine, that’s an improvement over sitting on your couch streaming the latest TV series for hours, and you’re exercising. A secondary benefit is that you might meet some of your neighbors. It could happen.

Here’s my list of things I’d like to do in 2022:

  • Get back to the gym (it’s been a tough two years for that).
  • Make the time to visit some out-of-state friends.
  • Hike more than my usual trails.
  • Ride my bike more (I feel as though I slacked this year).
  • Drink less wine (we’ll see).
  • Be calmer.
  • Judge less.
  • Read more, and diversify my title selections more.

Some of these are goals that come up year after year. Perhaps I won’t achieve these things, but I’m not about to hear that there is “no try.”

The future and the New Year bring to mind the combination of optimism and pessimism expressed by Nick, the narrator of The Great Gatsby, at the very end. F. Scott Fitzgerald’s writing of conflicted feelings of pity for and admiration of Jay Gatsby’s optimism is poetic, in my opinion:

“Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgiastic future that recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter-tomorrow we will run faster, stretch our arms out further…and one fine morning-” (180).

And although the book ends disastrously, The Great Gatsby‘s commentary on the American dream has always resonated with me. I think it’s the complicated nature of the belief that anything is possible, and America in general. So maybe if you’ve not read The Great Gatsby, or it’s been a bit, try it out, it’s great.

There have been many, but the fairly recent film adaptations are also great. I’m a fan of both the Robert Redford 1974 and the 2013 Leonardo DiCaprio adaptations. The latter we own, the former you can request via Interlibrary Loan.

If you’ve read it, or you’re just not into Gatsby, we have some other recommended titles for you this month. Also, please consider the HCLS Winter Reading Challenge, now through February 28 – pick your own books or use our challenges to inspire your Winter Reading!

Lastly, come see us in the branches and speak with us about the books we like in January.

Happy New Year!

Eric is a DIY Instructor and Research Specialist at the Elkridge branch. He enjoys reading, films, music, doing nearly anything outside, and people.

American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins

The cover art evokes tiles painted with stylized blue birds, separated by barbed wire.

By Gabriela P.

American Dirt’s story begins with Lydia’s family joyously gathering to celebrate her niece’s quinceanera. The day quickly becomes the beginning of a nightmare when the party is suddenly interrupted by a group of men with no regard for human life launching a violent attack. Lydia and her son, Luca, make it out only through luck. She realizes the attack was planned in vengeance against her journalist husband, who had recently exposed the identity of an infamous drug cartel’s leader. She realizes the leader was a frequent patron of her bookstore, one that she had considered a kindred spirit and even a friend because of his love of books. It is then that Lydia realizes the race is on to save both of their lives. Without time to bury her relatives or even cry, they leave their home in Acapulco. With this begins a story of cat and mouse as Lydia and her son set off on a dangerous mission to find refuge in the United States, following in the footsteps of many Central American immigrants before them.

When mention of American Dirt came up in conversation, several of my colleagues asked me, being Latina, of my opinion of it after it was received with controversial reviews. I was hesitant to pick it up only because of my familiarity with the tragic history of Central American immigrants to the United States, and I knew how emotionally taxing the subject could be. Looking back, I am glad I decided to read it, if only to be able to speak on its shortcomings. I have to say that I feel that, while detailed and evocative, the story came up short in its representations of immigrants and was especially off the mark when it came to cartels. The cartel leader is romanticized, being painted as a man of poetry and philosophy, with a deeply rich life. In reality, cartels are dysfunctional and dehumanizing organizations full of fear. They certainly have no mysterious allure to them.

In regards to our protagonist, Lydia, her background as a highly educated woman of the middle class does not align with the decisions that she made in the story. The danger that she put her and her son in was unnecessary and a poor decision. She leads them along one of the dangerous paths to the United States border, one usually only followed by the most desperate and poor immigrants as a final resort. Unlike so many of the people who would have taken that path, Lydia had options. She was comfortably middle class, with a college education, connections, and resources available to her. As such, I have to say that her story is not very realistic. Instead, I would have liked to read more about her companions on the journey, who truly represent the people who would have had to adopt such dangerous measures. These people holding on to hope, fleeing for the safety of themselves and for the survival of their loved ones, truly represent bravery. The end of Lydia’s story, though conclusive, left me frustrated. Her complacent satisfaction with her new job in the United States left a bitter taste in my mouth, speaking as a Central American immigrant myself. 

If you choose to dive into American Dirt, I would take its legitimacy and credibility with a grain of salt. Let’s not forget it’s fiction. If you are interested in a nonfiction book that explores the topic with more nuance and depth, I highly recommend Enrique’s Journey by journalist Sonia Nazario, her account of a young Honduran boy’s perilous quest to reunite with his mother in the United States. Nazario based the book on her Los Angeles Times series of articles, also called Enrique’s Journey, which won the Pulitzer Prize for feature writing in 2003.

American Dirt is also available in eBook and eAudiobook format from Libby, and also as an eaudiobook from CloudLibrary. Enrique’s Journey is also available as an eBook from Libby, an eAudiobook in Spanish, also from Libby, and in a young reader’s edition for teens, which was chosen by Kirkus Reviews as one of four books on their Best Teen Nonfiction Book of the Year list for 2013.

Gabriela is a customer service specialist at the Miller Branch. She loves long walks, reading with her dog, and a good cup of coffee.

Thank you for reading in 2021

A blue background with "snow" above a white block at the bottom, on which rests 2022. Happy New Year appears below the year.

Thanks for reading Chapter Chats through another year of pandemic and uncertainty. We now have more than 180 followers, who have viewed posts almost 40,000 times (maybe we’ll be influencers soon?). The library went through some big changes, from contactless pickup to having all six branches fully open again. We talked about all sorts of things on the blog, from democracy to Paddington Bear, from National Library Week to National Geographic. Hopefully, you found something to suit you.

These blog posts were some of the most popular during the past year; make sure you didn’t miss out:

The Other Black Girl reviewed the hit title and invited you to an author event.

Celebrating Women’s History Month with #ELKReads promoted titles for all ages.

Learn about taking free music lessons with ArtistWorks

Pandemic Reads took a look at Station Eleven and The Plague.

Everyone Has a Flavor reviewed the graphic novel series, Space Boy.

All Things LEGO! talked to folks who love to build with blocks.

The Nature Fix reminded us of the importance of being outdoors.

The Daughters of Erietown reviewed Connie Schultz’s novel of small town, blue collar America.

But maybe you missed some of these other excellent reviews:

Mistborn takes a look at best-selling author Brandon Sanderson’s first series.

Definitely Hispanic offers a light-hearted reflection on owning an identity.

Cooking Up Some Comics introduces some manga titles that feature food.

Happy New Year! We hope to see you often in 2022 – on the blog and in person!

Happy Thanksgiving!

A metal watering pail holds fall greenery and herbs, and three small gourds sit on the wooden table at its base.

by Kristen B. and Julie F.

Wishing you and yours a very happy Thanksgiving! The past year and a half have brought trying times, which makes taking a moment to give thanks an exercise in hopefulness. Here’s to hoping we’re in an even better place by this time next year! If you wish to do some reading (it is the blog, after all) about gratitude, check out these lists: adult fiction, adult nonfiction, and for children and teens.

We would like to take a minute to express our gratitude to you, our loyal Chapter Chats readers. We, along with many colleagues here at the library, began this enterprise shortly after the pandemic struck. We were working from home and not very sure how it was all going to work out. We have now surpassed 230 entries that have spanned reviews of books, movies, and online resources, classes and events, and other library news. Thank you for sticking with us!

HCLS is open again now, as you surely know, and our statistics are once again proving why we rate as a 5-Star Library. We reopen the Glenwood Branch in a little over a week on Dec 4, and we hope to see you there and at any of the other branches soon.

On behalf of all the HCLS staff who write for Chapter Chats, enjoy your celebrations this holiday season with family, friends, and loved ones. Happy Thanksgiving!

Walking in Someone Else’s Shoes

The cover has the author and title in black and white lettering against a sea green background.

by Cherise T.

When a novel is set in the reader’s hometown, appreciation for the story and characters extends beyond the book’s contents. When a novel is set somewhere new to the reader, that place is no longer foreign and unknowable. Literature expands memories, builds connections, creates new journeys, and fosters empathy.

Books by veterans, about veterans, and regarding veterans’ friends and families offer diverse perspectives of consequential events and everyday perseverance. Veterans can, perhaps, find shared experiences. For non-veterans, there are bridges to understanding. Ben Fountain’s depiction of experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder in Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk is unforgettable. To some, an NFL halftime show featuring Destiny’s Child would be entertaining but to this story’s young Iraq War Army soldiers, it’s terrifying.

The cover depicts two soldiers, weapons drawn, seemingly patrolling a desert area with mottled orange sands and sky and a yellow sun at the horizon.

In his debut novel, The Yellow Birds, Iraq War veteran Kevin Powers takes on the burdens veterans face when they return home. Private John Bartle struggles to understand his own behavior in Iraq, as well as his debts and responsibilities to superiors and fellow soldiers. Veterans may relate to Bartle’s emotional efforts to move forward with his life beyond the battlefield. Readers who have never been in the military become immersed in Bartle’s psychological conflicts. He feels surrounded by death as he fights to survive both in Iraq and back home in Virginia.

The cover depicts a white cloud against a deep turquoise sky, with a field rising to a hill in the foreground and just the upper floor and chimney of a house depicted behind the hill, with the United States flag flying in front.

Short story collections offer multiple viewpoints of war in one volume. Siobhan Fallon’s You Know When the Men are Gone focuses primarily on the family left behind, particularly military spouses in Fort Hood, Texas. The stress on these characters exceeds loneliness. Their attempts to cope with deployments are seen in actions as seemingly mundane as a shopping trip to the PX or as drastic as abandoning one’s spouse.

The cover depicts a soldier in fatigues, cap and boots with his duffel bag on the ground beside him, in what appears to be an airport or other waystation with a concrete floor and white tiled walls.

National Book Award winner Redeployment by Marine veteran Phil Klay deftly presents the outlooks of men who entered the military from varied backgrounds. The stories are heavy but often humorous as Klay addresses the absurdities inherent in active duty as well as in the abrupt return to civilian life as a veteran. Often disturbing, the situations encompass violence and PTSD but also forgiveness and compassion.

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.

Banned Books Week (Sep 26 – Oct 2)

The illustration shows two hand clasping a book with the Earth the backdrop, with the text across the hands and book reading, "Books Unite Us." The rest of the text reads, "Banned Books Week. September 26-October 2, 2021. ALA American Library Association. The illustration is in shades of purple, lime green, and orange.

by Jean B.

 “Any time we eliminate or wall off certain narratives, we are not getting a whole picture of the world in which we live…we limit our vocabulary, which complicates how we communicate with one another.”  

– Jason Reynolds, the acclaimed Maryland author named Honorary Chair for Banned Books Week

A library may be held together with walls, but it’s the doors and windows that really matter — doors open for all people and windows that illuminate all perspectives. During Banned Books Week, we celebrate the freedom to read and the commitment by libraries, publishers, teachers, writers, and readers to promote access to materials that the ALA Freedom to Read Statement says, “enrich the quality and diversity of thought and expression.” Established in 1982, Banned Books Week responds to efforts across the country to challenge and censor books and focuses attention on how restricting access to information, ideas, and stories harms American cultural and political life.   

In a time when divisions cut across our nation like fault lines, the 2021 Banned Books Week theme reminds us that books can be a force for unity, even – or especially – when they convey a wide variety of views and experiences, including those that are marginal, unconventional, or unpopular. The freedom to read strengthens our ability to communicate with one another.

In a democracy, we trust individuals to learn and decide for themselves.  But to make informed choices, citizens require free access to all viewpoints and all kinds of ideas in the process of self-education. Where can people go for free access to ideas and information? Their public library! As essential institutions of democracy, public libraries implement intentional collection policies to ensure the breadth and inclusivity of materials available to their communities. For Howard County Library System, this translates into a collection that reflects a wide range of voices, including controversial and conflicting ideas.  

As the HCLS Board of Trustees affirms, while, “anyone is free to reject for [themselves] books or other materials of which [they] do not approve, [they] cannot exercise this right to restrict the freedom of others.” The freedom to read strengthens our citizenship. Each year, the American Library Association (ALA) publishes a list of the ten most frequently challenged or banned books across the nation. This snapshot reflects only a small percentage of the challenges that take place in schools and libraries.  The ALA estimates that 82 – 97 percent of requests to remove materials are unreported. As this list illustrates, the challenges come from all directions and perspectives. The freedom to read protects all points of view.

So this year, in honor of Banned Books Week, open the library door and explore our extensive collections.  Look through the windows of stories into all different kinds of lives, familiar and unfamiliar.  Explore HCLS’ Brave Voices, Brave Choices campaign to discover a wide range of experiences in our own community. It’s all free to you, and you are free to choose.

Jean B. is a Children’s Instructor and Research Specialist at the Central Branch and loves reading books for all ages when she isn’t enjoying the outdoors.