The ERC Belongs to You and Me

by Cherise T.

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

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

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

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

Undesign the Redline

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

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

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

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

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

Celebrating Juneteenth

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

by Brandon B.

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

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

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

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

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

National Library Week 2022: State of Howard County Library System

National Library Week logo: Connect With Your Library. Connect is a white mouse with cord on a blue background. A black and white image of a plug on a deep yellow goes with "with your, and "library" is on red with an illustration of two hands getting ready to clasp.

by Tonya Aikens, President & CEO, Howard County Library System

It’s National Library Week! First observed in 1958, National Library Week is a time to celebrate our nation’s libraries, library staff, and promote library use and support. This year’s theme, Connect With Your Library, promotes libraries as places to connect – to technology, to learning, and, most importantly, to each other.  

We invite you to connect with us and your neighbors when you attend a class or event, participate in a book discussion group, visit an exhibit, get a passport, study or conduct research, browse the collection, or simply stop by for a visit.  

Get inspired and collaborate with others in our new makerspace at the Glenwood Branch, dream up projects with the team at our DIY Center in Elkridge, and gain new perspectives when you borrow books from our new equity collection at the Central Branch or read Brave Stories from fellow Howard Countians on our website.  

At Howard County Library System, we are focused on making connections with and between members of our community. We launched our new mobile unit last summer, bringing classes and materials to preschoolers and their families in communities less able to come to our branches.  

We reopened the renovated Glenwood Branch in December, and families are now spending hours in our new Builders Barn and interactive play spaces. After school, teens flock to the cozy booths, play games, and record raps in the recording booth at our makerspace. 

Over the past year, we also embarked on an equity journey. We formed a Racial Equity Alliance, comprising 20 people representing a broad cross-section of the community, which guides and partners with us in our racial equity work. We launched our Brave Voices, Brave Choices initiative which hosted racial equity training for more than 400 community members, collected more than 600 stories of racism, bias, and discrimination, and convened circles of people seeking to make sense of what they learned and discuss how we should move forward as a community. 

In response to requests for a physical space where people can come together to learn more about one another, to learn more about people different than them – whether that’s a different race or culture or belief or gender identity – we created an Equity Resource Center at our Central Branch. This new Center includes space to gather, for exhibits, and for a new 9,000-plus title equity collection.  

Libraries serve the entire community and provide opportunities to connect and bring people together across conversation…to hear, listen and understand our differences, to learn how we can make meaning of them, and how we can find and increase common ground. 

When we create connections, the fabric of our community is stronger. Libraries are unique places where all people, regardless of background or means, are welcome. Whether you connect with us online or in person, we hope to see you soon.