Nestled in the heart of Columbia, Maryland lies one of the best library systems in the country. Given its innovative nature and its commitment to developing a library system that is useful for the members of the community, Howard County Library System was named the 2013 Library of the Year. This award is given by Gale and the Library Journal and comes with a $10,000 prize.
The award was announced on June 5, 2013 by Library Journal and Gale. According to the Library Journal release, the Howard County Library System was chosen because it serves as a 21st-century model for sustainable library systems, and provides inspiration for other libraries across the country. The Howard County Library System leaders were able to effectively integrate the library system with the county public education system, allowing it to earn greater funding from the community and deliver better services to the residents in Howard County. Essentially, the library system became a partner in the public education system, and everyone in the county is benefiting from this distinction.
This unique library system has found many ways to incorporate its presence into the regular school curriculum. Students at Howard County Public Schools get a library card at school registration. Every kindergarten classroom takes a field trip to their local branch of the library, and every school is assigned a special branch that students can go to in order to study, research on the Internet and participate in programs. Each library branch has a liaison that works with their assigned elementary, middle and high school buildings. This effort has resulted in more than 50,000 issued library cards and 652,000 interactions between students, teachers and their library liaisons.
Leaders at the library say the staff is the driving force behind day-to-day life at the system. It’s the librarians, liaisons, teachers and instructors working at the various branches who develop educational curriculum, programs, workshops, classes and seminars. The staff members work one-on-one with students and teachers to help them with their research, to assist them in locating new types of materials and to help coordinate events for everyone in the community to enjoy together. There are more than 300 staff members throughout the library system, with 65 percent working full-time and another 35 percent working part-time.
The Howard County Library System has a mission and a plan to move forward into the future as well, and it was one that was crafted by both administrators and staff members. The Library of the Year judges were impressed not only by the system’s innovations during the last several years but also its commitment to continuing to develop in the future. There were four judges who chose the 2013 Library of the Year winner, as well as a four-person panel who assisted the judges in their decision. Two additional libraries were chosen as runners-up in this year’s award, including Ocean County Library in New Jersey and Sacramento Public Library in California.