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.

Libraries Stand Against Racism

Black box with white text that reads, Libraries Stand Against Racism atop red text that reads, Anywhere. Anytime.

My heart aches at the cruel and inhumane acts routinely inflicted upon my Black brothers and sisters and all people of color. Tears stream from my eyes because statements like this continue to be issued in the aftermath of senseless killings like those of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor. I wail as committees are formed to check the box so we can bird watch in public parks and not endure what Christian Cooper endured. My gut wrenches because conversations must held to see that our children have the protections denied Aiyana Jones at seven years of age. My soul is in a state of unrest to see people of all races and ethnicities in harm’s way and being harmed as they peacefully protest in support of respect, equal justice and equal treatment for all. The statements, committees and conversations should and must continue, but we must also move past them, standing against racism and hatred each time it is in our midst, and strategizing and enacting change until America’s promises ring true for all citizens.  

Learning of one another, our shared history, and the peaceful steps we can all take is essential to reaching this goal. In line with its mission of high-quality education for all, Howard County Library System (HCLS) dove into the topics of systemic racism with the Undesign the Redline exhibit and Color of Law author Richard Rothstein event (in person and on our HiJinx podcast), and racial justice with Waking Up White author Debby Irving and educator Lisa Gray. HCLS condemns racism, hatred and violence. Today, HCLS invites you to join us in committing to and engaging in an educational pursuit for justice. 

Public libraries across the country have the responsibility to advance social equity. HCLS stands united with the Urban Libraries Council and the American Library Association in condemning racist incidents and behavior that targets individuals and communities. 

HCLS is one of more than 160 North American public library systems that have shown their strong commitment to ending structural racism by signing ULC’s Statement on Race and Social Equity, which asserts that “libraries can help achieve true and sustained equity through an intentional, systemic and transformative library-community partnership.”  

The American Library Association unequivocally condemns racism and endorses recent statements by the Asian/Pacific American Librarians Association and the Black Caucus of the American Library Association

Desmond Tutu, Archbishop Emeritus of Cape Town and Nobel Peace Laureate once said, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.” 

I implore you not to be neutral. The cost for neutrality is simply too high. It’s incalculable. I invite you to take the deep pain felt in our community and use it to fuel positive change. Peacefully learn, grow, share, support and act. Our talented team will continue to add to the list of materials below and on our website curated for all ages in various formats. Read. Watch. Listen. Share. Act.  

Sincerely, 

Tonya Aikens 
President and CEO 
Howard County Library System 

Read 

Anti-racist books 

Anti-racist reading list from Ibram X. Kendi  

Social Justice Books – Young Adult Fiction 

20 Social Justice Books for Young Adults and Middle Grades 

31 Children’s books to support conversations on race, racism and resistance 

Watch 

https://www.kanopy.com/category/29286

Learn 

What White People Can Do for Racial Justice 

HOUSING 

Listen 

Howard County Library System’s HiJinx podcast, Episode 19: Seeing Red, focused on the Undesign the Redline exhibit. This episode featured Richard Rothstein, author of The Color of Law, a forgotten history of how our government segregated America, and Braden Crooks, co-founder and partner of Designing the We which created Undesign the Redline. Tune in here via SoundCloud or listen on iTunes

How Racist Property Laws Formed The Neighborhoods We Live In Today on The Kojo Nnamdi Show. Listen

Watch 

Designing the WE co-founder April De Simone gives a tour of Undesign the Redline in Washington, DC. Watch