Taking time for books Armed with grant, library battles forces that keep adults from reading.

February 26, 1996

A GOOD BOOK'S value is too often lost on modern society. Between E-mails, rush hour traffic, car pools, working lunches and hurried phone calls, many of us have to steal time just to read the paper much less plunge into a book. Who would take the time to read Jane Austen's "Sense and Sensibility" when you can go to the movie?

The last time many adults were encouraged to sit down and focus on good literature was in school, when reading was more a chore than a conscious choice.

Thus, a Howard County Library reading and discussion program designed for adults who have little time to read -- is anyone excluded? -- should be a welcome development for those who have long been "meaning to get around to it."

The program, "Books Bridge the Gap," is funded by an $80,850 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. Discussions, set to start Friday, will be held at more than 50 libraries, workplaces, senior centers and prisons throughout Maryland, D.C., Northern Virginia and parts of Pennsylvania over the next two years. Specific sites are still being chosen. The program has already sparked the interest of many in the area who have been calling Howard libraries for more information.

Programs will address 25 themes, dealing with a variety of topics including history, romance novelists and autobiographies of women, among others. The library system will recycle supplies it already owns for program use.

NEH money will cover only speaker fees and supply costs -- a major factor in why the federal arts funding agency chose Howard as one of only four libraries nationwide to receive such a grant, said Patricia Bates, adult coordinator for the Howard County library. (She had launched a similar program 25 years ago in New England and in 1989 received the NEH's Charles Frankel Prize for her work in furthering public interest in the humanities.)

Most discussions will last between 60 and 90 minutes and will be taught primarily by college professors. Programs will consist of three to six discussions. Some programs will be held in workplaces and tailored to fit the participants' schedule, such as lunch hour, Ms. Bates says. Indeed, a little more brain food on the daily menus would do many of us a world of good.

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