There are so many reasons that my family loves living in Howard County … the beautiful farm land, wonderful people and accessible county resources – including our world-class Howard County Library System.
We love using the Library. My family all take out books of course, but we engage in many Library programs as well, and love the garden at the Miller Library.
Why does this matter to me?
This matters to me because we all need to support each other to the best of our abilities. We love our library community! Everyone is always so helpful and accommodating, and they offer so many incredible programs and resources to help us raise our family.
In fact, the Library is so important to my family, and to me personally, that I have chosen to invest my personal time as a member of the Board of the Friends & Foundation of the Howard County Library System, or as we simply refer to it as, “The Friends”.
Friends and Foundation of Howard County Library System is a nonprofit organization that supports HCLS in its mission to deliver high quality education for all ages.
Specifically, we support:
Battle of the Books
HCLS Spelling Bee
HiTech STEM classes and events
Notable Author Events
HCLS Project Literary Graduation
Rube Goldberg Challenge
Children’s Discovery Fair
Online Homework Assistance
Family Movie Nights
While our family favorite is the Enchanted Garden, we know the entire county enjoys all of these Library efforts, and then some. That’s why my family supports the Friends, and I invite you to as well.
The Friends & Foundation is hosting a Floral Fundraiser to Kick Off National Library Week. This fall, HCLS will be introducing a new mobile library van, On the Road to Kindergarten, that will bring library collections, services, and programs to all corners of the community, focusing on preparing children from birth to three for kindergarten. The Friends & Foundation of HCLS is holding a floral fundraiser this spring to support it. You can donate and enjoy a thank-you gift(s):
$35 – Hanging Flower Basket
$30 – Sobar Drink Kit
$30 – Flower Cookie Kit
A portion of your donation goes directly to HCLS to support this fantastic project that will creatively bring education, support, and activities to young minds outside the library’s buildings – it’s a Win, Win, Win!
I volunteer with the food pantry run by the Indian Cultural Association (ICA) and I’d like to share a little bit of what I see in the parking lot at HCLS Miller Branch. Just the other day while we were unloading boxes, a lady walked up to me. She had come to pick up books at the library and was curious about the long line of cars. When I told her about the boxes of food – milk, eggs, meat, fresh produce, that ICA was prepping to deliver, she quickly got into the line. After about five minutes she beckoned me to her car, and her mother, or mother-in-law, and her young son were with her. She asked how much she’d have to pay for the food, and I told her – it’s free. She looked away and mumbled something that I didn’t quite understand. I said, “Excuse me?” She looked up and said that her family hadn’t had a proper meal in three days. That look of desperation in her eyes is imprinted on my brain.
That is why cars start lining up hours in advance of the start time even in bitter cold. When the food distribution starts, the cars flow through non-stop and all four loading stations are constantly busy. The folks in that line represent a wide diversity – from older couples to families with kids in car seats. In that parking lot we see all the shades of skin color – both in the cars collecting food as well as among the volunteers loading the boxes into the cars. More than 350 volunteers help ICA distribute the food. The way ICA is bringing the community together gives me a lot of hope for our future.
The Indian Cultural Association’s mission is to introduce and enhance the vibrant culture and heritage of India through various programs. A fledgling organization, it was incorporated in 2018 by Sanjay and Niti Srivastava. ICA has been working to help put food on the table of families in our community and alleviate hunger among so many affected by the pandemic. Niti shares some surprising statistics, “Nearly 28% of Howard Countians are food insecure, meaning they are not certain about where their next meal will come from or they will be making a choice between paying essential bills or buying food for their families. 1 in 4 children and 1 in 6 adults are food insecure. You will be surprised to learn that these are 2018 figures”.
Inspired by the core philosophy of Seva, or selfless service to those in need, ICA has distributed more than 1,600,000 pounds to date (and counting) of food to more than 100,000 hungry families. ICA has distributed more food to Howard County residents than the Howard Food Bank during the pandemic.
Working in tandem with community organizations, Howard County Library System has been tirelessly engaged in supporting and assisting our customers and our community through this troubling year. These efforts have included lending Chromebooks and hotspots to enhance digital learning as well as supporting food pantries to address food insecurity among Howard County households. One of our most valuable partners in this effort at mitigating hunger has been The Indian Cultural Association (ICA) of Howard County.
Rohini is the Adult Curriculum Specialist with HCLS. She loves literature and rainy days.
I grew up reading comics. In hindsight, it was one of the things I can recall being really into, certainly more than books or sports. I loved the stories, the characters, and the artwork. In the 1980s, the stories became a bit more interesting and complex, giving the characters more depth than in previous periods. My love was bolstered by the fact Steve Geppi, on his way to becoming comic distribution magnate and part-owner of the Baltimore Orioles, owned and operated several comic shops around Baltimore. I won’t reminisce here, but the one I frequented with my brother was a pretty amazing place, created by a guy who quit his job at the post office to own a comic shop. (In other words, he had passion.)
At any rate, I still occasionally read some comic and graphic novels, my book discussion group has read and discussed a few of the best, and I still enjoy going to my local comic shop to browse (less frequently lately, obviously). The medium has a come a long way, with the work of some talented writers and artists. More importantly, the graphic medium is much more diverse and inclusive these days. HCLS has a great graphic novel collection. Sometimes I look through and find things I’ve not heard of or a book adapted into a graphic novel that I was not aware of previously.
Ta-Nehisi Coates and I are the same age, and he’s from the west side of Baltimore, around where the city meets the county. I, too, hail from west side of Baltimore, spent my first few years just on the county side, and spent a lot of time in those areas. The differences in our respective experiences could probably make for more than a blog post, but nevertheless I’m always happy to see local people do well. (I guess we all like that sort of thing so we can imagine some sort of shared experience.) Commonalities notwithstanding, I’m a fan of Coates’ thoughtful work and was moved by his piece on reparations. He has authored several excellent books of fiction and nonfiction on race, and perhaps you have heard about his “twitter battle” with Dr. Cornel West.
At any rate, and certainly not to take away from any of these accomplishments, I recalled reading that he was a comics kid. I was elated to read that this intellectual had realized his childhood dream of writing for Marvel Comics, Black Panther in particular. I can only imagine I’d feel the same and felt incredibly happy for him! My first guy was Aquaman, I was blonde and liked the ocean. Next was Spider-man, the flawed character who struggled with pretty much everything in his personal life. That said, I had characters with whom I could relate, which is important, and I was very happy to read Coates had his, too.
You may have seen the Black Panther character in the Marvel films, but Coates built on the source material created by people of color he had admired as a young person. He writes comics narratives about power, opposing points of view, the African continent, and nature. Coates also recognizes that comics and graphic novels are a collaborative work, and he acknowledges how the great art of Brian Stelfreeze brings a graphic story to life. Coates subsequently moved on to Captain America and wrote about his good reasons for wanting to do so. He mentioned that some may see Cap as the embodiment of nationalism or the character from the films, but he’s much more nuanced and conflicted than that.
I have to feel a sort of kindred spirit with someone that can recognize this in Captain America and comics in general. So, if you have not, read his articles in The Atlantic (available via RBdigital), read his books, and don’t be afraid to read his graphic novels, which are collected as trade paperbacks and available via HCLS.
Eric is a DIY Instructor and Research Specialist at HCLS Elkridge Branch. He enjoys reading, films, music, doing nearly anything outside, and people.
For families talking with children about death and grieving, the words we want can be especially hard to find. But we are not alone. Heartfelt picture books are one of my favorite sources of solace. In aiming to speak clearly to children, the best ones are both simple and profound. They can help us open doors to deeply meaningful conversations. When we invite a child to read these stories together, we offer a special comfort.
“Anything that’s human is mentionable, and anything that is mentionable can be more manageable. When we can talk about our feelings, they become less overwhelming, less upsetting, and less scary. The people we trust with that important talk can help us know that we are not alone.”
Maybe a child is grieving the death of a pet, friend, or family member. Maybe they are struggling to understand the tragedy of the current pandemic. Even if death is not on the doorstep right now, the following books can help a child understand what death means, the emotions that can come with it, and how they can process it all with someone they trust.
Read through these books before inviting your child to share them. See how they suit you and if they are appropriate for your child’s age and experience. Don’t be afraid to change up the stories to personalize them to your child’s circumstances. Or, simply look through the pictures while your child tells a story or talks about their own experience. Sometimes a child just needs someone to listen.
If you’re reading this, you probably like books. And you may, like me, find and pick stories to read that you can relate to irrespective of time and place. That said, thanks to the fantastic members of my HCLS book discussion group (Read. Think. Talk. First Monday of the month at 7 pm) for suggesting Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel (also an ebook, eAudiobook, and an audiobook on CD) and The Plague by Albert Camus (also an eAudiobook). We discussed the former title as a group and it made for a good conversation.
I tend to want to know about the human experience, although some things are just too sad right now. To be sure, both of these books are sad, but I’ve definitely read more melancholy stories. What’s more, I’d contend these reads put the global pandemic in perspective. So, if you feel as though you’re up to it, I recommend these titles (I can completely understand if you’d prefer not to read about plagues and pandemic.).
Station Eleven was a good book, a suspenseful page turner with many likeable characters and some interesting commentary on the modern world and celebrity. It is scheduled to be an HBO miniseries, but unfortunately the filming was stopped due to the pandemic. Emily St John Mandel’s latest book (The Glass Hotel) made President Obama’s Best of 2020 list.
A nonlinear story, the book recounts a much deadlier and contagious flu from the outbreak to the post-apocalyptic world that remains after much of the population and civilization are wiped out. The story revolves around an aging actor and his tangential relationships. The characters include his two ex-wives (one of whom is a shipping executive/comic book artist and writer), a self-declared prophet, his business consultant best friend, a paramedic, a child actor, and a Shakespearean acting troupe and symphony traveling around the Great Lakes region of North America. The individual daily experiences told from the perspectives of these characters, pre, during, and post the pandemic, are compelling. Moreover, their individual stories intersect in creative ways.
As mentioned before, I will concede that Station Eleven has some disturbing parts. For me, and probably for most American readers existing in relative comfort, the transition from the modern world to a more primitive existence is frightening. In some ways the inability of society to stop the unraveling seems improbable, but not impossible. I do think a cursory analysis of what holds society together can be a bit horrifying.
After completing Station Eleven, I really wanted to read The Plague by Albert Camus. Camus is known as a philosopher of sorts, although he denied being an “existentialist,” he is perhaps an “absurdist.” Put simply, Camus’ books examine the random aspects of human existence but not in as overly academic way. Instead, I’d contend he uses fiction to spin a thoughtful tale. I’ve read The Stranger and The Myth of Sisyphus, and I recommend both, but The Plague is particularly apropos right now.
The Plague describes the beginning of an outbreak of a plague in a small coastal town that is too busy to be bothered with such things. The story gets much deeper into the actual outbreak and day-to-day management of the plague from the perspective of a narrator whose identity is only revealed in the end (I found this interesting).
The reactions of the characters to the plague vary and are indicative of human feelings throughout time. For example, one character is determined to break the law and escape the quarantined town to be with a loved one. Camus adroitly addresses the feelings we all share to some extent, immortality, and that need to believe that it won’t happen here, happen to me, etc. These sentiments shape our collective response to situations like a pandemic. This is in no way an indictment, but rather a recognition of human nature. I certainly recalled my similar reaction to other epidemics, and I assumed the Coronavirus would unfold for me in a similar way. That is, abstract, contained, and impacting other people, but not my daily life.
Camus’ idea is that terrible things, such as plagues, are inevitable. Moreover, we are all susceptible to some random demise. My favorite character in Station Eleven, Clark, recognizes this fact and angrily points it out to religious zealots who believe they’re in some way chosen because they survived. I don’t think it’s healthy for us to ruminate about the fact we could cease to exist at any minute. (It is odd that Albert Camus met what he would’ve described as an “absurd” end in a car crash at age 46.) Perhaps living through these things, will enable us to remember and collectively take it more seriously, sooner. Some contend that Camus’ recognition of the fragility of humans and society is to engender a kinder world.
So as not to end this post on a very depressing note, I believe both authors are optimistic about humanity. Camus and Mandel both highlight the joy that comes from being with each other and the many pleasures of life. They describe the simple pleasures of swimming, dancing, art, friendship, dogs (I certainly love all these things). These are the things that keep the characters from giving up despite grave circumstances. Conversely, both authors astutely highlight the things that perhaps we deem important, but really are not.
Here’s hoping I’m reading and writing about books concerning rainbows next year!
Eric is a DIY Instructor and Research Specialist at HCLS Elkridge Branch. He enjoys reading, films, music, doing nearly anything outside, and people.
To every thing there is a season. This is especially true for gardeners. Winter may bring a drop in temperatures and light, but surely not idleness for the devoted gardener. Winter is the season to prepare, ponder, and plan!
Prepare your tools for the next season by inspecting them for cleanliness and sharpness. Garden tools get dirty from use and pose risks to your plants by spreading disease. Rust accumulates from moist conditions and sharp edges dull with use. I start by removing any dirt with a stiff wire brush. Then, I use steel wool to rub off any rust. Next, I apply rubbing alcohol with a rag to disinfect. Lastly, I apply a light coat of oil to the metal parts to prevent rust and to keep moving parts working smoothly. I prefer to use a plant-based oil such as linseed oil. Tools used for pruning and cutting should be inspected for sharpness. A dull tool increases the possibility of injury to you and your plants. A few hardware stores in our local community offer tool sharpening services at reasonable prices.
Winter invites pondering the possibilities of spring. My mood soars when I look through seed catalogs and garden books. We can transform any location with a few seeds or humble seedlings. I’ve switched to online seed catalogs and tend to favor local companies such as Meyer Seed Company of Baltimore, Southern Exposure Seed Exchange (VA), and Burpee Seeds and Plants (PA). When searching for hard to find or heirloom seed varieties I turn to Seed Savers Exchange, Hudson Valley Seed Company, and Renee’s Garden Seeds. Or, cut down on shipping altogether and head to Clarks Ace Hardware or Southern States Home and Garden Service. They expect their seed selections to arrive by the beginning of February. If you’re starting seeds indoors this winter, be sure to check out the University of MD Extension – Home and Garden Information website for a short tutorial.
Garden-themed books keep my creative juices flowing. Lately, I’ve been pondering ways to grow more food in the Enchanted Garden and still provide plenty of habitat for pollinators. Edible landscaping has been around for decades, but is gaining attention as many people look for ways to grow their own food as well as flowers. Author and gardener Rosalind Creasy has written two trusted books to give you all the detail you need to get started growing a combination of flowers, vegetables, and herbs: Edible Landscaping and The Edible Herb Garden (also available as a ebook through CloudLibrary). Niki Jabbour explains how to garden in any setting and for any level gardener. Check out Groundbreaking Food Gardens: 73 Plans That Will Change the Way You Grow Your Garden. Each decision I make about gardening I examine through an “earth stewardship” lens. Reading Doug Tallamy’s latest book, Nature’s Best Hope (also available as an ebook through OverDrive/Libby), reminds me to create a garden that enriches the soil, provides for wildlife, and supports all life.
Planning is part of the fun of gardening. I enjoy sketching my garden plans to use as a guide and to save from year to year (with notes) as a reminder of what worked and what didn’t turn out as expected. Give me graph paper and color pencils on a cold winter afternoon and I am a happy gardener! If you prefer using online planning tools, try the GrowVeg online planner, which offers a free seven-day trial. In addition to tailoring your plan to your space and location, the planner allows you to find companion plants and provides start and harvest dates. You can learn more with their helpful overview video.
How do you prepare for a new garden season during winter? What inspires and sustains you when our gardens rest in the cold?
Ann joined the Miller HCLS staff as the Enchanted Garden Coordinator and Instructor in 2012. When not gardening you’ll find her reading, cooking, and exploring trails in the Patapsco River Valley with her husband and dog.
Last year we embarked on a powerful journey of connection through reading and discussion among veterans in Howard County. This journey continues in 2021. Our facilitator, David Owens, USNA Class of ‘94, shares his thoughts in a candid interview.
David, you are a former Naval officer and an entrepreneur with your own media production company. You are also the facilitator of a Veterans Book Group (VBG) at the library. Tell us more about all these different hats that you don so effortlessly.
I do indeed juggle a lot, but I love it! I want to be someone who makes communities better, and thus volunteering (Veterans Reading Group, etc.) makes me feel more satisfied. I’m a graduate of the United States Naval Academy and spent six years active duty stationed at Naval Station San Diego. I was also a news reporter for 15 years after leaving the service.
Running a small business has been one of the most rewarding things I’ve done, and much of the success of the company centers on human connecting and teambuilding. I learned many of those skills in the military and try to bring those abilities to the reading group as well.
The Veterans Book Group was a first for Howard County Library System and a first for you. What prompted you to take on this role?
First of all, I love this reading group, and I hope it continues! I wanted to be involved in the group because I love to read, and I like listening to other people’s opinions on things. This has been the best of both worlds for me! We all read the same book, yet we sometimes have different perspectives, which helps us all grow. Additionally, it is awesome to meet new people and connect with them.
What makes a Veterans Book Group different from other book groups?
Just by the nature of the job, military members tend to have experience working in high intense environments with diverse groups of people. I believe those experiences facilitate deeper discussions in our group. I also believe there is increased sensitivity and empathy among the members because we understand some have had life-altering experiences during their service/lives. As for the readings, we are a relaxed group that gives members plenty of time to read all the books.
Would you like to share any special memories or experiences from last year’s VBG?
Last year we were honored to have author Madeline Mysko (Bringing Vincent Home) join us for a session. She was so gracious, and having her talk about how the book was really a reflection of her own experiences brought a realness factor to our discussion.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Covid-19. Our group initially met in person, then held our final few meetings virtually. Howard County Library and Maryland Humanities were great at adjusting on the fly. Being able to remain connected to people brought positive energy for me, and provided a bit of normal human interaction during such a difficult time.
I understand that participants at VBG read novels, short stories, articles, and just about every format. What was your favorite story, book or excerpt from what you read last year?
Again, I have to give a lot of kudos to Howard County Library and Maryland Humanities because they work hard to assist the facilitators in selecting a good cross-section of books. Bringing Vincent Home was my favorite. The characters in her story were so identifiable and really hit home for me. I honestly had to remind myself on several occasions that it was actually a novel.
You are embarking on another journey with VBG in 2021. What are your plans for this year? How are you feeling about it?
I am really excited about the diversity of subjects in this year’s books. We will explore issues with the VA (Dead Soldier by Carmelo Rodriguez), as well as a few eras that might not get read as much (Korean War and Civil War). We are also planning to invite authors to our discussions; in fact, Carmelo Rodriguez has expressed a desire to speak with us. I’m looking forward to the journey, and I know the group is going to have a lot of great discussions and connections!
The Veterans Book Group 2021 starts on February 2. For more information and to register, click HERE.
Howard County Library System wishes you all the best during the holiday season. Thank you for reading our new blog, which we began in May. We hope you’ve enjoyed the reviews and maybe discovered a new electronic resource or two.
We published nearly 95 posts this year; here were some of the most-read posts of 2020:
HCLS and InLACE, the Initiative for Latin American Community Engagement, are partnering to offer Remembrance Trees, a community memorial for the Covid-19 pandemic from Dec 9 – 21, and Remembering Together, a virtual event on Monday, Dec 21, 6 – 7 pm. These efforts look to honor those loved ones who have passed and those who are struggling near and far due to the Covid-19 pandemic — and to help us remember that while we might be distanced, we’re deeply connected and can support each other.
Patricia Silva of InLACE approached the library and asked if HCLS wanted to collaborate on this important, meaningful idea during what will be a challenging holiday season for many. HCLS’s Katie DiSalvo-Thronson spoke with her about the inspiration and hopes for these projects. For more information about Remembrance Trees and Remembering Together, visit hclibrary.org/remembrance.
How did you get the idea for this effort?
I first was thinking about this because so many people were dying and how much despair they must have felt and how lonely people have been. When you hear that the families couldn’t say their goodbyes, that bonds were lost… We need to honor them.
I haven’t lost anyone, but when I hear people talking about their friends, sons and daughters being sick or dying that makes me sad and makes me want to reach out with information or emotional support and it makes me want to honor those lives.
Our losses are not reflected only in death, but people losing their jobs, not being able to have food in the house, or facing mental health difficulties. This pandemic affects your hope. What I want to honor also encompasses people who are living with those struggles and uncertainty.
What do you want to remember during this memorial and event?
I think that every life counts and no one should endure this alone. Solidarity.
For you, what does “community” mean in this moment?
Well, it’s a tricky one, because community is something that is immediate around you – but when you become a citizen of the world the notion of community just gets bigger, broader. I live in Howard County, but what happens in my native country of Brazil also affects me.
The other day I was walking through my neighborhood and I saw a lawn sign that said “together and apart.” I think that the same time that social distance makes us physically distant from each other, it could give us a sense of connectivity. We can support each other in ways that are less physical and concrete because what we do and don’t do impacts other people’s lives. If we do social distance, that will impact the curve and fewer people will get sick. The beauty of it in my view is that applies to everything. If we reach out to family and friends to support them, that can save lives, that can help someone. We are in this together. That’s true!
Who should participate in this memorial and event?
Oh my gosh! This is open to everyone who wants to express their solidarity, and in any sense grieve and mourn and remember.
Patricia Silva is InLACE’s Co-Founder and President and a community advocate.
I know that is a groundbreaking title there. Anyway, this post is a personal illustration of connecting with book characters because they are like me. Before anyone else can point it out – yes, I am a white guy. Yes, I am a white, heterosexual male. Yes, there are many books about people like me. This post is not about me wanting more books about me. I’ve always agreed that we need more diverse books. I can’t imagine why anyone would disagree with this. Kids need to be able to read a book about a person who reflects their personal experience. Intellectually, I always knew this. My last two books have been a good illustration of how a connection to the characters improves the reader’s experience.
I read The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner (also available in ebook and eaudiobook from OverDrive/Libby). It takes place in rural Tennessee, and in the author’s words from the book jacket:
I grew up in a place that could be considered forgotten and unglamorous. A small town where many kids dream of escaping to a bigger and brighter world. A small town where some days it seems like your dreams will die. I felt completely connected to the characters and could see a little bit of myself in them. Because of this, the book meant more to me and I was more emotionally invested in the story.
Immediately after Serpent King, I read Gabi, a Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero. I like the book, but I don’t feel the same connection to the character because I am not a Mexican-American girl living in California. A Mexican-American girl will feel that connection here, but not necessarily in The Serpent King. It’s important for books like Gabi to exist for that girl. She does not have the plethora of books about people like her that I’ve benefited from my entire life.
I didn’t realize how lucky I was growing up a reader and finding myself in all of the books I read (like the creepy clown in It, for example), and even though I realized it as an adult, it didn’t really stand out to me until I read these two books back to back.
I do think it is important for me to read books about people different from me, but sometimes it is really nice to read a book that feels like home. Everyone should have that opportunity.
For more information about where to find diverse books, please visit the We Need Diverse Books website. They have an excellent resource page of current, active sites that offer recommendations for diverse titles, as well as a great blog to help you discover new authors.
Alan has worked for HCLS for just under 25 years, currently at the Savage Branch. He enjoys reading, television, and most sports.