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April, May, June, 1997
Volume 43, Number 2

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Humanities and the Loudoun County Public Library

by Barbara Sue Evans

They spoke here—Robert Stone, Henry Taylor, Rita Dove, Nikki Giovanni, Ann Beattie, David Bradley, Tobias Wolff, Tim O’Brien, Richard Bausch and others. Among them are winners of the National Book Award, the PEN/Faulkner Award, the Lila Wallace-Readers Digest Writers’ Award, and the Pulitzer Prize. They spoke in rooms often filled to capacity, not just to scholars, but to common folk who want to understand a little more about our mutual heritage, to those who want to make a connection between the self and one’s time.

The humanities programs offered by the Loudoun County Public Library illuminate the experiences, beliefs and values that unite us as human beings and help us make connections between our own times and others, our own lives and others.

Generous grants from numerous national and state foundations, including the Lila Wallace-Readers Digest Fund, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities and Public Policy, and the United States Institute of Peace, have enabled the Loudoun County Public Library to create programs where community members explore archaeology, history, literature, and social science. The library is the ideal place for such discovery because it is accessible to all at no charge, it serves no special interests, and it is nonpartisan. If fact, Loudoun County Public is featured in the recently published Humanities programming: A How-To-Do-It Manual for Libraries by Rhea Joyce Rubin. This book provides examples of successful humanities programs from across the country.

The library’s humanities programming has created positive and immediate response from the public. It has promoted much reflection and discussion: Nikki Giovanni, in her recent appearance at Loudoun County Public Library, read her poem, "All Eyes on U," an elegy for Tupac Shakur, to an audience of thoughtful mothers and hushed teens. Some of the listeners knew the poetry by heart. It was a first for others, many of them young. Lila Wallace-Readers Digest Award winner Luis Rodriguez inspired students, Youth Detention Center officials, parents, and teachers to a lively and long discussion following selected readings from his book, Always Running: La Vida Loca, Gang Days in L.A. The program, funded by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities and planned jointly by the Loudoun County Public Library and the Loudoun County Office on Youth, included a dramatization of poetry written by the young people of the Loudoun County Juvenile Detention Center. The high school students who dramatized the poetry of the Juvenile Detention Center youths were richly rewarded with a new and broader understanding of their community and themselves.

The library’s participation in The Nation That Works seminar, sponsored by the American Library Association with a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, engaged topics such as Gender, Work and American Values; Immigration, Migration and American Identity; and New Technology and the American Workplace. The discussions were scheduled in a time slot convenient to the growing senior population of Loudoun County. Effectively led by George Mason University professor Dr. Vincent DeGirolamo, the participants arrived early and stayed late. They successfully formed an enthusiastic discussion group with probing questions and keen observations, focusing on their lives, their values, and how they, as seniors, fit into the new American identity.

Peace and Security: Nuclear Age Concerns, funded by a grant from the United States Institute of Peace, offered a six-part series covering the beginning of the nuclear arms race and the challenge of nuclear proliferation. This program dealt with détente, arms control and the fear of resurgent confrontation. The Peace and Security series, led by discussion leader Dr. Michael J. Smith of the University of Virginia, stimulated positive and instructive dialogue. It provided a chance for reflection of our experience of the Cold War and the Post-Cold War era.

Breaking the Sound Barrier: The Literature of Deafness, funded by the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities and Public Policy, provided a unique humanities forum, not previously offered in a public library setting. This series brought together discussion members who are hearing, deaf, and hard of hearing. Deaf scholars in the areas of public policy, sociology, history, literature, linguistics, and anthropology led the discussions. Writer, Hannah Merker, author of Listening: Ways of Hearing in a Silent World, read from her memoir using the language of the poet to describe her day-to-day life. Ms. Merker also spoke frankly of her disability and the frustrating attempts to have this disability acknowledged through policy change and public awareness.

These programs permitted the Loudoun County Public Library to provide to the members of the community an open and free environment for thought and discussion. The library will continue to offer programs where participants can take a closer look at the essential purpose of humanities: the illumination of ideas, traditions, and values.

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