Librarian shares love of literature


October 03, 2003|By Lisa Kawata | Lisa Kawata,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

IN CHINA, where she grew up, Diane Li rarely visited a library. Children's story times, rows of colorful picture books and the chance to browse through seemingly limitless shelves of literature were not a part of her childhood.

Li, the new manager of the Savage branch library, was born and raised in Beijing. The two libraries in her native city were used mostly for academic studies and research. Patrons flipped through catalogs, submitted a written request and waited for a librarian to retrieve the book from its shelf. Li's thirst for a rich literary experience was not satisfied so she pursued a college degree in library science at Peking University.

"I've always thought of the library as a refuge, especially in turbulent years. It's a shelter," she said.

Relatives who had lived and worked in the United States told her about America's public libraries and all they had to offer. In 1990, a year after the student protests in Tiananmen Square ended in tragedy, Li and her husband received permission to study in America.

"Life is a journey of learning. What better place for learning than through a library?" said Li, who began her job as Savage branch manager in August. She came to the Savage library as assistant branch manager in 1997.

Li also loves the community she serves and describes the patrons as warm and vibrant people who want to make a difference in their neighborhoods.

In turn, patrons often comment on the intimate atmosphere of the library, which is one of the smaller branches in the Howard County system. Some use it every day, coming for the computers, or to study or do research. Many attend the library's weekly children's story times, or come to hear talks on history, watch opera or take crafts classes. Farmers have brought sheep and the 4-H Hare-raisers have brought rabbits for show-and-tell programs. A new drop-in English conversation club meets at 9:30 a.m. on the third Saturday of each month.

Situated at the front of the Bowling Brook community, along Gorman Road in North Laurel, the Savage branch library is surrounded by townhouses and is about a mile from the center of town. The county's Southeastern Health Center and the Savage Senior Center are attached to the library, and all share a common courtyard.

Though small, the library's meeting room serves as a free community space for residents and organizations in North Laurel. A core group of about 10 middle-schoolers hangs out in the library or in its courtyard - having nowhere else to go after school.

One of Li's goals as branch manager is to start an after-school program for these young teens. She is developing partnerships with area businesses to help fund an after-schoool program, and she is looking for adults who might be willing to teach life skills, lead a chess club or a martial arts class.

Another of Li's plans for the library is a series of open houses focused on various cultures. The first one, scheduled at 10 a.m. Nov. 1, will feature the food, dance, music, clothing and crafts of Islamic cultures.

"I want this library to be part of people's lives," Li explained.

Helping to make this vision a reality is a new assistant branch manager, Kevin Clement. A transplanted South Carolinian from the town of Goose Creek, near Charleston, Clement was formerly a children's librarian at the Enoch Pratt Free Library in Baltimore.

"I've always enjoyed literature and wanted to share literature and knowledge with others," he said.

Part of Clement's job is to supervise the adult reference staff and sometimes work at the information desk. He has had to get acquainted with literature for grown-ups - fiction and nonfiction - but his first love is children's literature. His favorite author is Paul Zindel, who wrote The Pigman and other stories for young adults; Clement says Zindel is an author that today's youngsters shouldn't miss.

Clement also loves the poetry of Paul Laurence Dunbar, a 19th-century African-American poet, and has memorized Dunbar's poem The Boogah Man. Clement also writes lighthearted poetry and is interested in theater, having performed in college and community theater in South Carolina. He taught English to middle-schoolers for two years before pursuing a graduate degree in library and information studies at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. Now he hopes to share his love of poetry and theater in community programs at the library.

The Savage library is at 9525 Durness Lane. Information about the library's services and programs: 410-880-5980.

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