Celebrating 20 years of A+ Partners in Education

A crowd of fifth-graders dressed in colorful costumes talk excitedly while at Battle of the Books 2022.
Fifth graders excited for Battle of the Books 2022 at Merriweather Post Pavilion.

by Katie DiSalvo-Thronson

In the fall of 2002, Howard County Public School System and Howard County Library System formed A+ Partners in Education to expand the educational opportunities and enhance the academic achievement of every Howard County student. It was one of the first systemwide school and public library partnerships in the nation.

We are proud to celebrate 20 years of collaboration. Together we have furthered students’ academic success, enhanced their love of reading and learning, and forged a connection to libraries that will serve them their whole lives.

Right from the start
The library is integrated into student’s experiences from the beginning of their academic career. Kindergarten, Here We Come prepares and inspires incoming kindergarteners and gives them a chance to tour a school bus. Then, every kindergarten class takes a field trip to the library for a class, a tour, and a friendly connection to this important family resource. We are proud to add another point of early connection: next year, the HCLS mobile unit will visit every HCPSS Pre-K to engage students and parents!

Connecting to serve students
Every school has a dedicated HCLS liaison, and our educators and staffs collaborate to offer hundreds of school-based HCLS classes and events that serve those school communities. Two great examples of that work: supporting National History Day student projects, and facilitating parent and student engagement at Deep Run Elementary School (both initiatives featured in the current issue of Source, our award-winning publication). We also collaborate on summer reading lists and promotion, to help all students read and continue to learn all summer.

Our systems are connected, too! Did you know every HCPSS student has an account with the library system, built right into the student portal, hcpss.me? With one click, students can access all online library resources and reserve books at HCLS branches. In the last year, students borrowed 80,337 books, e-books, and other resources on A+ accounts.

A+ Partners also connect to offer students free support via Brainfuse: last year, HCPSS students received 12,164 free online tutoring and test prep sessions and used Brainfuse study tools 52,355 times!

A+ Makes Learning Fun
In Battle of the Books, students experience reading as dynamic, social, and exciting. Teams of fifth graders read 10-14 titles over a year and practice answering questions about each book in a competition with pun-ny teamwork, costumes, and a dance party! Affectionately referred to as BOB, the contest grew from one high school gym to six sites. This year, we celebrated with 1,234 students at Merriweather Post Pavilion.

HCLS also sponsors the local competition of the Scripps National Spelling Bee. More than 7,000 students from 41 HCPSS schools participated last year alone. Saketh Sundar, one of the historic Octo-champs of the National Spelling Bee, was a four-time winner of the HCLS Spelling Bee!

More Outreach, Equity & Impact
HCLS is deeply grateful to the leadership of HCPSS, library instructors, and school-based educators, staff, parents, and volunteers who help us serve children through this partnership.

We look ahead with energy and commitment. HCLS is dedicated to strategic, collaborative work and additional outreach and engagement with schools to help every student and their family enjoy increased opportunity and academic success with library resources. Whether as a volunteer, school leader, or prospective sponsor, we welcome you to reach out and join us in this important work.

Here’s to 20 more years!

Katie is the Community Education and Engagement Manager for HCLS. She loves people, the big questions, the woods, and chocolate.

Interview & Invitation: Join us at the Longest Table

A Black woman with short hair, wearing purple sunglasses, gestures while sitting at a table.

Laura Johnson works for the United Way of Central Maryland as Senior Vice President and Chief Acceleration Officer. She is also a member of the library’s Racial Equity Alliance and will be a host at the upcoming Longest Table event on Oct 1. She recently shared her experiences at the Longest Table.

How many years have you participated? 

Two to date. The first I attended was online during the pandemic with Daryl Davis. I previously had heard him on a podcast and was excited to see him as the featured speaker at the Longest Table.  He shares a riveting story about his journey as a musician and his quest to open hearts and minds with members of the Ku Klux Klan. At the Longest Table, I held onto his every word. To be at a virtual table with him and our community was a a profoundly memorable and moving experience.

What made you decide to do it for the first time?  

Beyond the opportunity to meet Daryl Davis, I really just love the idea. I love the name: The Longest Table, where anyone is welcome and anyone can have a seat. There’s a place for everyone. I love that we can make the “table” as long as we need to make it. 

Have you always been a host? 

I have been a host both years. This year, being a member of the Racial Equity Alliance, we’ve had the opportunity to contribute to the “menu” for conversation so I appreciated the invitation for input.  

I like to welcome people, to make sure that everyone feels like they belong and that they have a good experience. Hosting is in my DNA from growing up and having big holiday gatherings as well as coordinating major events in my professional line of work, I gain great enjoyment in connecting with others. Being a host for the Longest Table means creating space for sharing, laughing, and   elevating our common bonds; honoring our lived experiences.

What do you love about The Longest Table? 

There is something so inherently simple and impactful about breaking bread together. It’s like family dinner – where we laugh, cook, tell stories, debate, disagree sometimes, and just enjoy being with each other.  

Last year in person, in particular… It just did something amazing for my spirit after sheltering in place for so long. The weather was simply beautiful, with the sun shining on everyone’s faces. I felt a connection, being there in person, and I was not truly prepared for the deep conversations and feelings that they evoked. 

I love the experience! We are all so busy, and we don’t always stop to see people and connect – beyond “hey, how are you.” This event allows people to stop for a moment and connect for a moment in time – to SEE each other. 

I go back to Daryl Davis, who shared how as a child he was so miffed and confused about racism, after having been the target of a hateful act in a parade. He couldn’t understand the rationale of racism. His story of convincing several klansmen to hang up their hoods was so profound and his ability to find common ground, to help people evolve to a different understanding of our connectedness as humans inspired me. 

He was able to hear and be open to different perspectives, then he invited us to do the same. I heard such joy and heartbreak at last year’s event and appreciated the opportunity to be present. 

What does the Longest Table have to do with racial equity? 

We all come from different places and lived experiences, so this provides a respectful and safe access point to build common ground. It also pushes us to acknowledge the internal work we need to do to heal, to speak up, to do something that builds a community where we all have a “seat at the table.” The incidences of hate in Howard County may not always make the evening news but they’re lurking here in this community. We also know there are so many inequities and disparate outcomes across education, housing, health etc.

Howard County is an amazing place to live, work, and play – but we have much more work to do. 

What advice would you have for someone considering coming for the first time? 

Listen with an open heart. 

Find joy and share joy – however that shows up. There’s something joyous in breaking bread with neighbors. 

Take the experience to heart and see what part carries on into our everyday lives. What are the next steps to make Howard County a better place?

Tell us a little about yourself?  

I am the new kid on the block at the United Way of Central Maryland, which is a sponsor of the Longest Table. I have a new position responsible for looking at how to accelerate impact. The task is to stop admiring the problem and find ways to take best practices and create something different. I like to think about how, with Covid, we marshaled the best science and funding to make vaccinations a reality as quickly as possible. I have hope that we can apply a similar type of strategy to social issues. 

The United Way is an organization that truly has a heart. I work with real people who are truly compassionate and want to help people live their best lives. People truly care. 

I am also honored to represent the local chapter of the NAACP. I have held positions on the executive committee as the past education chair for Howard County’s NAACP, and been state co-chair of education committee – Maryland State conference (MSC  NAACP). Although it’s technically a volunteer opportunity, it’s an everyday commitment. I believe, though, that no price is too high when you’re fighting for what is right and just. 

Do you have any favorite memories or thoughts about the Library? 

I come from a family of readers and educators, and the library was always a summer escape. The library is such an anchor for any community. Our library system here in Howard County is one of the most progressive and modern systems that I’ve seen in terms of engagement with community and non-traditional thinking about spaces. There are all those tools in the DIY Center at Elkridge, and sound studios, and, of course, events like the Longest Table. 

The library has such beautiful spaces! And, they are true community spaces. 

There's a place at our table for you! The longest table. Text accompanied by three circle photos: a mother and daughter, two

Please join us for dinner and conversation beginning at 5 pm at the Longest Table on October 1 at Howard Community College. Tickets are on sale now for the rain or shine event, with an indoor space available in case of inclement weather. 

Join a Book Discussion Group

A stack of books next to a keyboard, being checked out of the library.

Books: They are one of the fundamental reasons for a public library – purchasing, lending, recommending, and discussing. After all, as much fun as reading is all by itself, sometimes there are books you NEED to talk about. HCLS staff facilitate a wide variety of groups that read and discuss all sorts of books – from nonfiction to romance to graphic novels. Some meet online, some in person, and some change depending on guidelines.

Maybe you’re looking for something new to do this fall? Maybe you (like me) have missed social interaction and think an hour or so, in a small group, once a month, sounds about right?

Consider joining one of these regular meetings, led by library staff. Each month’s title is held at the branch for you for the month previous to the meeting, unless otherwise noted.

CENTRAL BRANCH

Eclectic Evenings: Second Tuesdays at 7 pm
Read an eclectic array of various genres, both contemporary and classic. 
Sep 13: The Boy from the Woods by Harlan Coben

Noontime Books: Third Thursdays at 12 pm
Consider a variety of fiction and nonfiction books, diverse in themes, characters, settings, time periods, and authorship. 
Sep 15: The Good Earth by Pearl Buck

Reads of Acceptance: Second Thursdays at 7 pm
Discuss books pertaining to LGBTQ+ experiences! All identities are welcome. 
Sep 8: The Moon Within by Aida Salazar

EAST COLUMBIA BRANCH

Black Fiction: First Saturdays at 1 pm
Discuss critically-acclaimed recently published fiction titles by black authors of African descent.
Sep 3: The Sweetness of Water by Nathan Harris

Good Reads: Second Mondays at 7 pm
Consider fiction and nonfiction titles that embrace universal themes.
Sep 12: The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson

In Other Worlds: Fourth Wednesdays at 7 pm
Welcome sci-fi enthusiasts and other intrepid readers! 
Sep 28: Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir

Nonfiction Addiction: Third Thursdays at 7 pm
Expand your mind reading and discussing a variety of nonfiction books, from memoirs to history, and from philosophy to popular science. 
Sep 22: Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner

Romantic Reads: Fourth Wednesdays at 7 pm
Discuss your favorite romance author and book or series with other fellow romance readers.
Sep 28: any title by Suzanne Brockmann

Warning: Graphic Content: Third Tuesdays at 7 pm
Discover the full spectrum of what is available as a graphic novel – from Archie to horror and Caped Crusaders to crime drama. 
Sep 20: Something is Killing the Children, vols. 1 & 2 by James Tynion IV

ELKRIDGE BRANCH

ELKS Excellent Reads: Second Tuesdays at 12:30 pm
Read mostly fiction, both contemporary and historical, as well as narrative nonfiction. 
Sep 13: The Lincoln Highway by Amor Towles

Murder, Mischief and Mayhem: Fourth Thursdays at 7 pm
Discuss titles including detective, spy, intrigue, and mystery. Mostly fiction, occasionally true crime.
Sep 22: Transcription by Kate Atkinson

Read. Think. Talk.: First Mondays at 7 pm (Second Monday this month due to Labor Day holiday)
Discuss great novels about the American experience before they’re critically acclaimed television shows and films. 
Sep 12: The Committed by Viet Thanh Nguyen

The Thursday Next Book Club: Third Thursdays at 7 pm
Read mostly fiction, both contemporary and historical, as well as narrative nonfiction. 
Sep 15: What’s Mine and Yours by Naima Coster (One Maryland One Book selection)

GLENWOOD BRANCH

The Reading Cafe: Last Tuesdays at 7 pm
Dip into a different genre each month. 
Sep 27: What’s Mine and Yours by Naima Coster (One Maryland One Book selection)

MILLER BRANCH

Asian American Literature: Second or Third Mondays at 7 pm
Enjoy a wide range of fiction, nonfiction, biography/autobiography that explores the Asian American identity and experiences. 
Sep 19: On Gold Mountain by Lisa See

Bas Bleu: Third Wednesdays at 7 pm
Bas Bleu, French for “bluestocking,” refers to an intellectual or literary woman. We read a variety of literary fiction, and all are welcome – not just bluestockings!  
Sep 21: What’s Mine and Yours by Naima Coster (One Maryland One Book selection)

Global Reads: First Mondays at 7 pm
Read a wide range of fiction and non-fiction books on different cultures around the world as well as immigrant fiction. 
No meeting in September because of Labor Day holiday.

An Inconvenient Book Club: Meets quarterly on First Thursdays at 7 pm
Discuss speculative fiction, cli-fi (climate fiction), short stories, and verse — exploring themes of climate disruption, dystopia, recovery, and redemption. Next meeting in November.
Nov 3: Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr

Spies, Lies & Alibis: First Tuesdays at 7 pm
Focus on spies, espionage, and world intrigue, alternating both classic and contemporary fiction and nonfiction, from the twentieth century and beyond. 
Sep 6: Two Spies in Caracas by Moisés Naím

Strictly Historical Fiction: Third Mondays at 2 pm
Step into the past and connect with characters living in times different than our own. 
Sep 19: The Pull of the Stars by Emma Donoghue

SAVAGE BRANCH

Mystery: Second Wednesdays at 7 pm
Discuss a wide range of mysteries, including procedurals, detective novels, and capers.
Sep 14: The Lost Man by Jane Harper

Nonfiction: Third Wednesdays at 7 pm
Share your thoughts on a varied array of nonfiction selections. 
Sep 21: Big Sister, Little Sister, Red Sister: Three Women at the Heart of Twentieth Century China by Jung Chang

Savage Hearts: Third Tuesdays at 2 pm
Enjoy romantic reads with others who love the genre.
Sep 20: The Unhoneymooners by Christina Lauren

IN THE COMMUNITY

Books on Tap: First Wednesdays at 6 pm – meets at The Periodic Table
Read a wide variety of titles and genres looking to experience an equally wide set of perspectives and experiences. Please arrange to borrow books as you would any other.
Sep 7: The Searcher by Tana French

Reading Human Rights: Varying Thursdays at 6:30 pm at East Columbia Branch
In partnership with the Office of Human Rights, read books that promote cultural awareness, diversity, equity. 
Sep 29: The Undocumented Americans by Karla Cornejo Villavicencio

You may notice multiple discussions of What’s Mine and Yours by Naima Coster. This is the One Maryland One Book selection for 2022, and several groups will be reading it throughout the fall. Register here to join us for an event with author Naima Coster at Miller Branch on Tuesday, October 4 at 7 pm.

National Library Week: Reach Out!

County Executive Dr. Calvin Ball and HCLS President & CEO Tonya Aikens, with other officials, cut the ribbon for the new mobile library van, whichis decorated in bright colors with many photos.

by Katie DiSalvo-Thronson, Community Engagement and Partnership Manager

I believe outreach is for everybody, and it’s a first step towards many good things. Why not do some outreach today, and consider reaching out to the library?  

Wait, what?  

I’m Katie DiSalvo-Thronson, and I’ve got about 20 years of community engagement experience from girl scout cookie sales, to working for a community school in the Dominican Republic, to community organizing. I’ve seen the power of outreach and steps that can follow, again and again.  

Today is also Library Outreach Day. It’s also National Library Week, and this year’s theme is Connect With the Library. In honor of all that, I want to share some inspiration!  

I view “outreach” as simply reaching out. It can be as easy as a hello at the mailbox. It is extending a welcome to someone new and inviting them to start being in a relationship with you.  

Reaching out helps us live in friendlier, more connected communities. Connecting to people outside of our familiar circles helps us gain new understanding of the world. New relationships and new knowledge mean new possibilities.  Reaching out also gives us a chance to share who we are with others. 

It’s a step outside of the familiar and predictable. It’s a small, brave thing to do that makes the world a better place. 

StoryWalk station two dislays the cover and first page of Janey Monarch Seed. The black metal frame stands in lush greenery.

What is library outreach? Library outreach gives us a chance to share about the library  – and we have beautiful spaces, incredible books and other resources, and tremendous free classes and events! Reaching out with that is phenomenal! We are committed to bringing as much as we can to the community. Did you know that we also have a new mobile unit, that provides books, children’s classes, and community engagement all over the county? 

Library outreach also gives us a chance to listen and hear you! Did you know that we’ve recently talked to people at a flea market, a rock climbing event, and Howard Community College? That we connect with local civic, business, and cultural groups every day? Did you know that we’d like to connect to and hear from your community group? (we really would!) 

Three Native American dancers in traditional costume danicng at the Native American Heritage Celebration held at the East Columbia Branch Library in the fall.

But then what? 

After we’ve reached out and gotten to know each other, that’s when the magic can happen. 

  • A Native American Heritage Month event with Ani Begay Auld, a local artist and activist, and the Howard County Office of Human Rights and Equity.
  • Presentations about library resources followed by a craft class with the Howard County Family Child Care Association.
  • Library-based food distributions by the Indian Cultural Association.
  • Presenting related Library books at an education session with Community Advocates of Rainbow Youth about how to support trans/non-binary youth.
  • A collaboration on story walks in the Middle Patuxent Environmental Area with local environmentalists and Howard County Recreation and Parks.
  • The NAACP’s young men’s group meeting in the Library’s new Equity Resource Center.
  • A great author event on the history of Muslim cooking with the Muslim Family Center. 
  • A new project lending chromebooks and providing remote English Language Conversation Classes to parents at Deep Run Elementary School.
  • Local heroes featured on the Library podcast.

These are just a few of the ways we are collaborating with community members.  

Bring your dreams here. Help your Library System provide the educational opportunities, community connections, culture, and joy that matter to you. Reach out to us, and let’s work on it together.  

I mean it. Reach out to us! Talk to your favorite branch staffer or email me at
Katie.disalvo-thronson@hclibrary.org

And try saying hi to someone new today. Odds are it’ll make you smile. 

Lawrence Lanahan and The Lines Between Us

Stylized black and white drawing of typical Baltimore rowhouses frame the title.

By Holly L.

Journalist Lawrence Lanahan’s 2019 book The Lines Between Us: Two Families and a Quest to Cross Baltimore’s Racial Divide opens with two epigraphs:

It’s in the way their curtains open and close.

“Respectable Street,” XTC

I don’t even have to do nothing to you.

“Big Brother,” Stevie Wonder

The first line comes from English post-punk band XTC’s 1981 song about what songwriter and frontman Andy Partridge considered “the hypocrisy of living in a so-called respectable neighborhood. It’s all talk behind twitching curtains.” The second lyric is from a track from Stevie Wonder’s 1972 album Talking Book. In the song, Wonder takes the white establishment (Big Brother) to task for only coming to the ghetto “to visit me ‘round election time.” He continues his indictment – “I don’t even have to do nothin’ to you” because, from offenses ranging from criminal neglect of its black citizens to having “killed all our leaders…you’ll cause your own country to fall.”

It is fitting that Lanahan chose these words and these voices to begin this story, as his narrative weaves together multiple perspectives but most closely follows the criss-crossing threads of two individuals, one black and one white.

Nicole Smith is a young black woman living with her family in a West Baltimore rowhome owned by her mother, Melinda. When we meet Nicole, she is twenty-five and is contemplating the crossing of a line—leaving her neighborhood (and family and community) behind in search of security and opportunity for herself and her six-year-old son, Joe. Though she is enrolled in Baltimore City Community College and is on a waitlist for affordable housing in the city, Nicole seems to be on an existential treadmill, running but getting nowhere fast. She’s heard of a place called Columbia, a planned community in Howard County, with a reputation for good schools, plenty of jobs, and safe streets. Could she make it there?

Mark Lange is a white man raised in the Baltimore suburbs who, after a spiritual reckoning in his late teens, embarks on a path of service informed by the teachings of Mississippi civil rights activist and Christian minister John M. Perkins, who argued that those who wanted to help communities in need must live among them. As Mark’s story begins to be told, he feels a gravitational pull from his comfortable suburban life in Bel Air toward Sandtown, a West Baltimore neighborhood where his best friend Alan Tibbels, a like-minded white Christian with a mission of racial reconciliation, relocated with his family. If he moves, would Mark prove to be just another “white savior” looking to appease his own guilt? Or would be able to form meaningful relationships and help foster change in an impoverished community?

In this meticulously researched book, Lanahan alternates the fascinating tales of Nicole and Joe with the complicated history of Baltimore’s segregation and the resulting devastating impact on its black communities. Having its genesis as a year-long multi-media series on inequality in the Baltimore area broadcast from September 28, 2012 to October 4, 2013 on WYPR, Maryland Public Radio, the depth and breadth of Lanahan’s reporting is detailed to an almost dizzying degree. But just when a reader’s brain might start to get overwhelmed by the minutiae of historical detail (as mine sometimes did), my attention would come swiftly back into focus as the humanity of Nicole and Mark’s stories propelled me through the book. The Lines Between Us should be required reading for anyone who wishes to understand the institutional forces that shape inequality in our region and for those whose understanding of their neighbor might require them to cross a line. And isn’t that most of us?

Join us: Author Works with Lawrence Lanahan
Wednesday, January 12 from 7 – 8:30 pm
In person, HCLS Central Branch
Register at bit.ly/3pFTq3y

To learn more about the historical policies of redlining, visit the interactive exhibit currently at Central Branch. Undesign the Redline explores the history of structural racism and inequality, how these designs compounded each other from 1938 Redlining maps until today, and the national and local impacts. Join a guided tour on Wednesdays at 11 am and Saturdays at 2 pm.

Holly L. is an Instructor and Research Specialist at the Miller Branch. She enjoys knitting and appreciates an audiobook with a good narrator.

Racial Equity: Collecting Stories in our Community

Two hands joined by hooking thumbs. The hand on the left is White and has the word "Learn" on the palm. The hand on the right is Black and says "Act."

By Katie DiSalvo-Thronson

With respect to racism, tell us about a time in the last six months you had an experience and thought “things have got to change.”

All of us have a story to tell, and we’d like to hear yours!  

HCLS wants to provide community engagement and education that advances equity and connects people to opportunities to make a difference. 

We invite you to join us at one of two virtual gatherings to hear and share stories related to racial equity. Please bring your experiences and insights, listening ears, and an open mind and heart.  

We are excited that through this event, you will have two options to make your story part of something bigger: You can share your story with the library’s new collection of stories about local racial experiences. You also can share your stories and experiences with the County Council’s Racial Equity Task Force.

The Task Force is developing recommendations for the County Council about legislations that can advance equity. Stories shared with them will be official testimony for the Task Force to consider as it does its work.

These events are previews of additional story gathering efforts the library will launch this spring.  

Thursday, Feb 18  |  7 pm  |  Register 
Saturday, Feb 20  |  1 pm  |  Register 

Katie is the Community Education and Engagement Manager for HCLS. She loves people, the big questions, the woods, and chocolate.

Community Engagement for Equity

A woman with long dark hair holds a sign that reads, "Listen. Respond positively. Be courageous! Show Compassion!"
Smiling woman holding a motivational message from the Longest Table event.

by Katie DiSalvo-Thronson

Learn about what’s local!

This fall we designed and launched a new series of programs to educate customers about local diversity, equity, and inclusion issues, and connect participants to organizations taking action on those topics.

Why? Our mission to provide high-quality education for all must include education about our own community! As local news coverage has decreased, it is especially imperative to create conversations and presentations where our shared experience as Howard County residents is discussed and analyzed. We hope you come learn with us, and that our programming helps you contribute to our community.

Look forward to events on the county council’s Racial Equity Taskforce and more.

Learn about your neighbors!

In strategic planning events held with over 500 residents in 2019 and early 2020, HCLS staff heard loud and clear that people are interested in ways to learn about each other. People said they want opportunities to bridge what can feel like racial, cultural, and political divides in the country and build more community. At the excellent 2020 virtual Longest Table, participants voiced this request again.

Howard County is asking HCLS to make spaces for people to connect with and learn from each other. Look ahead to more programming in 2021 with small group discussion, especially on diversity, equity, and inclusion topics.

Additionally, HCLS will be launching a story collection effort on racial equity issues. We have two goals. First, we hope to build community – that sharing and listening to stories will increase our understanding of each other, provide recognition of diverse experiences, and spur new relationships. Second, we seek impact. We will use our stories to understand local diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts more precisely. We will publicly share stories and community-led analysis of these stories to help inform local decision-making. We can’t wait to start this process with you.

Stay tuned at hclibrary.org and through HiLights, our weekly email newsletter.

Katie is the Community Education and Engagement Manager for HCLS. She loves people, the big questions, the woods, and chocolate.

A Community Memorial for the Covid-19 Pandemic

A black silhouette of a bare tree sits on a blue background, with red letter that read "Remembrance Trees" and a white ribbon with a message on it.

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.

The Library is for Everyone

The picture depicts a group of customers seated in a reading area in the library, studying materials from the collection.

By Piyali C.

The residents of Howard County are blessed to enjoy the diverse cultures and practices that people from countries around the world bring to our community. I was one such immigrant who moved to Howard County from India in 2004 with a 5 year old and a newborn. Every immigrant’s experience is different and unique, but I believe there is one common thread that binds us when we move to a different country: anonymity. Often, this includes loneliness. Leaving behind everything that is familiar, we transplant our lives to a new country for various reasons: job, a better (different) standard of living, education, and/or marriage. As we rebuild our lives in a new land, we embrace new cultures and traditions of our adopted country. Slowly, we build new relationships. Yet at the beginning, we are new, unknown.

My refuge in those uncertain days of transition was the Howard County Library. I was at the library so often and so regularly that the librarians knew me; they knew my name. It may not seem that special to many, yet to me, a new immigrant to the country, just that recognition was huge. As I stood in line to pick up my holds, the Customer Service Specialist brought my held materials without scanning my card. They greeted me by my name and asked me how I was. When I called to sign up my daughter for a class (yes, we had to call in those days), the Children’s Instructors started writing down my daughter’s name before I had to give it to them.

Within the library, I lost my anonymity. It meant a lot. I wonder today if the library worker who helped me, greeted me, took a few minutes to exchange pleasantries with me knew what a difference he or she was making to a newcomer in this country?

I work at the library now. I try my best to remember my feeling of loneliness when I first arrived. And I try to pass the kindness that I received from the librarians forward. I try to be present in the moment, I try to remember the customer’s name and even if I don’t, I always smile and say hello. I know, in my own little way, I am acknowledging a fellow human and who knows, maybe making a little difference in his/her day?

I have many stories to tell about my interactions with new immigrants at the library, but one stands out especially in my mind. A gentleman started frequenting the library a while back. He was from a different country and spoke almost no English. Language, however, did not deter us from having conversations. He managed to convey his needs through smiles, gestures, and pointing, and somehow I understood what he needed that I was able to provide – scissors, directions, printing. One day, he came to the desk, pointed to me, and said “friend.” Then he took a picture of a child from his wallet and showed it to me with a big smile. It was a photo of his child. I cherish that interaction.

Public library workers are not limited to providing information for research; they are also cornerstones of the community. They provide a safe place and create a meaningful impact, sometimes even without realizing it.

This blog post is my ode to librarians and every library worker. Since I am a lover of books as well as libraries, Part Two of my post will be published on Wednesday with a few of my favorite immigrant fiction and nonfiction books that you can borrow from Howard County Library System. Look for it then!

Piyali is an instructor and research specialist at HCLS Miller Branch, where she co-facilitates both Global Reads and Strictly Historical Fiction.