Author Works with Robin Wall Kimmerer

The book cover shows a single braid of yellow sweetgrass stretching horizontally below the title.

Wed, Sep 14, 7 – 8:30 pm
online
Register at bit.ly/braidingsweetgrasshcls

Acclaimed author and scholar Robin Wall Kimmerer explores the dominant themes of her book Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants, which include cultivation of a reciprocal relationship with the living world. Consider what we might learn if we understood plants as our teachers, from both a scientific and an indigenous perspective.

Robin Wall Kimmerer is a mother, scientist, decorated professor, and enrolled member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation. Her first book, Gathering Moss: A Natural and Cultural History of Mosses, was awarded the John Burroughs Medal for outstanding nature writing, and her other work has appeared in Orion, Whole Terrain, and numerous scientific journals. She tours widely and has been featured on NPR’s On Being with Krista Tippett and in 2015 addressed the general assembly of the United Nations on the topic of “Healing Our Relationship with Nature.” Kimmerer is a SUNY Distinguished Teaching Professor of Environmental Biology, and the founder and director of the Center for Native Peoples and the Environment, whose mission is to create programs which draw on the wisdom of both indigenous and scientific knowledge for our shared goals of sustainability.

The author, with long grey hair pulled away from her face, leans against a white birch tree. She is wearing a richly colored and patterned poncho and dangling beaded earrings.

As a writer and a scientist, her interests in restoration include not only restoration of ecological communities, but restoration of our relationships to land. She holds a B.S. in Botany from SUNY ESF, an M.S. and Ph.D. in Botany from the University of Wisconsin and is the author of numerous scientific papers on plant ecology, bryophyte ecology, traditional knowledge and restoration ecology. She lives on an old farm in upstate New York, tending gardens both cultivated and wild.

Braiding Sweetgrass is available to borrow in print, e-book, and e-audiobook, or you can purchase online from The Last Word Bookstore.

The event is part of the “Guide to Indigenous Maryland” project. This program is supported in part by the Institute of Museum and Library Services, through the Library Services and Technology Act, administered by the Maryland State Library, as well as by the Prince George’s County Memorial Library System. Maryland Libraries Together is a collaboration of Maryland libraries to engage communities in enriching educational experiences that advance an understanding of the issues of our time. Learn more at bit.ly/indigenousmd

Visit us at the Howard County Fair

STEAM Machine with blue awning deployed sits on a grassy patch, with a popup tent next to it.

Do you love the fair? Deep fried everything? Rides? Awards for livestock and hand-crafts? What’s not to love?

This year, as you come in the front gates, look for Howard County Library System’s new STEAM Machine. Stop by to participate in a STEAM-related activity, watch a demo, or take a tour of our new (air conditioned!) mobile unit. The 33’ Farber diesel bus features a climate-controlled classroom that seats twelve students. It is equipped with Wi-Fi, laptop computers, two 49” LED TVs, sound system, video production equipment, materials, and supplies, including science kits to conduct experiments and complete projects. A 55” LCD monitor and two awnings allow classes to be taught and activities conducted outside.

As the mobile classroom goes out into our community, students can borrow books and other materials on STEAM subjects. Our goal is to transform students into scientists investigating new phenomena and engineers designing solutions to real-world problems.

Tonya Aikens, President & CEO of HCLS, notes, “Howard County Library System is coordinating with community partners to schedule STEAM Machine classes across the county. Our goal is to bring opportunities for hands-on STEAM education to students from under-resourced communities and families who, for an array of reasons, are often unable to come to our branches.”

HCLS instructors will teach most classes with contributions from scientists and engineers from the Maryland STEAM community, who will be recruited for special events. HCLS is collaborating with community partners to determine student aspirations and needs, identify community locations for STEAM Machine visits, and schedule classes and events. 

The STEAM Machine is funded in part by an American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) Grant through the Institute of Museum and Library Services and administered by the Maryland State Library Agency.

See you at the Fair!

Foundation by Isaac Asimov

The black cover serves as a backdrop to delicate repeating patterns. A second white incomplete circular design on the bottom half draws your eye to a vanishing point.

By Ben H.

Foundation, the first book in Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series, is a sci-fi touchstone. I’m sure it’s been called a towering work of genius or a staggering work of brilliance. More importantly, it’s just been adapted for the small screen (I haven’t seen the show, but I’ve heard good things). The story’s three protagonists are a scientist, a politician, and a trader. Asimov explores big scientific, political, and economic ideas, and his protagonists give the reader a clue.

Asimov speculates that we will one day be able to predict the future using science. Psychohistory is born from the blending of (I bet you can guess) psychology and history. It’s used to predict the movements of large groups of people (the masses of humanity living their quietly desperate lives). We meet Hari Seldon, the most accomplished psychohistorian the galaxy has ever seen, on the planet of Trantor. Seldon tells Gaal Dornick, the scientist protagonist, that the current and seemingly stable galactic empire will fall and the galaxy will be plunged into thousands of years of chaos and barbarism. Seldon has a plan that, if executed properly, will save the galaxy thousands of years of chaos. Don’t get too attached to Gaal. Asimov moves through narrators pretty quickly. 

According to the plan, Seldon establishes the first Foundation on the remote planet Terminus. He tasks scientists and academics with compiling an encyclopedia of the galaxy’s vast knowledge. They attack their goal with fervor. Meanwhile, the rest of the galactic empire is resting on its laurels and starting to collapse. 

Fast forward a few decades and Salvador Hardin is the next narrator (the political narrator). Hardin is a very 60s sci-fi cool customer, space cowboy narrator. At this point Seldon reappears as a hologram (being dead) to provide hints or tips to keep the galaxy moving in the right direction, according to his plan. Hardin, the mayor of the planet Terminus, helps the planet through the first Seldon crisis, which is a time identified as a key turning point in the future of the galaxy. Each crisis must happen a certain way for the plan to be successful. 

The last narrator is Hober Mallow, a trader working for The Foundation. At this point, The Foundation produces technological marvels that they trade to the surrounding planets. Most traders spread the religion Hardin created and tied to The Foundation’s technology to new planets. The new planets buy the technology, sometimes accept the new religion, and become regular customers. The traders make money and the surrounding planets become dependent on The Foundation. 

Foundation is full of big ideas. Bloated bureaucracies, social elites, centralized governments, hyper-specialized professionals, cynical capitalists, zealous religious fanatics, and downtrodden regular folk populate the pages. It’s a thought-provoking story of the collapse of an empire.

Foundation is also available from HCLS in eBook and eAudiobook format from Libby.

Ben Hamilton works at Project Literacy, Howard County Library’s adult basic education initiative, based at HCLS Central Branch. He loves reading, writing, walking, and talking (all the basics).

Chernobyl on Page and Screen

By Kristen B.

It’s not exactly a cheerful topic – the most devastating nuclear accident ever to have happened. However, the story of what went wrong is riveting and amazingly complex. More than 30 years ago, on April 26, 1986 at 1:23:58 am, one of the nuclear reactors at the Chernobyl site suffered a massive explosion and containment failure, which led to fallout poisoning in large areas of Ukraine and Belarus. At the time, the Soviet government was more concerned with containing the political and international ramifications than protecting its citizenry. I have to admit that until recently I hadn’t thought much about Chernobyl other than as an unfortunate incident that happened during my teenage years.

A member of the book discussion group that I moderate, Books on Tap, advocated for reading oral histories and books in translation, particularly this one. She argues (and I agree) that it’s a marvelous way to gain insight and perspective from other cultures and points of view. Voices of Chernobyl: The Oral History of a Nuclear Disaster presents the ultimate expression of telling stories “in their own voices.” Svetlana Alexievich, who won the Nobel Prize in Literature, wrote it 10 years after the nuclear accident, and it was more recently translated in 2014. The book presents the written account of her interviews with a wide cross-section of people who lived through the catastrophe and the subsequent years. A surprising number of people returned to their homes or fled to the “open” country as other Soviet Socialist Republics disintegrated into ethnic warfare. They often refer to Chernobyl as “war,” being their only other frame of reference to so many people dying and the subsequent governmental propaganda. Although it can feel a bit repetitive, that sheer recounting from so many different people – teachers, party loyalists, army conscripts, wives, and mothers – drives homes the devastating, ordinary reality of living on top of nuclear fallout.

Midnight in Chernobyl by Adam Higginbotham (also an eBook and eAudiobook) offers another side of the story, one rich in politics and science. Where the previous title provides a direct line to individuals, this book takes a much larger overview of the history of Chernobyl – literally starting with the creation of the plant and its company town along a marshy stretch of wilderness. The perfidy of the Soviet institution’s need for results and optics, above any adherence to safety and good practice, was something I had forgotten since the fall of the USSR. The Chernobyl disaster was nonetheless a direct result of the political reality during that time… and in fact contributed to the fall of the communist regime. This book draws on interviews and recently declassified archives to bring the disaster and the people who lived through it to life. Although there’s a short holds list for the book, it’s worth the wait.

HBO aired a five hour, five episode Chernobyl miniseries in 2019 that combined the source material from these two books into an excellent show about what happened during the explosion and in the two years after, available to borrow as DVDs. You can’t turn away from the real-life drama unfolding on the screen, not even knowing the basic outlines of the story. All sources, books and screen, point to the complete cognitive dissonance of dealing with an accident that was largely deemed to be impossible. The show is immensely well-written and well-acted, pulling you in almost despite yourself. Content warning: The middle episode contains some particularly hard scenes of “cleaning up” wildlife and abandoned pets. Here, too, the faces and the voices give a human accounting to an unimaginable tragedy.

The area will not fully return to “safe” for millennia, barring any further contamination. I feel like this was an important moment in time, and only now can we begin to appreciate its history. I also hope it will give us some optimism about human resilience and the ability to solve big problems… because one thing has been made perfectly clear: it could have been so much worse.

Kristen B. is a devoted bookworm lucky enough to work as the graphic designer for HCLS. She likes to read, cook, and take walks in the park.