The Howard County Library System announced Wednesday that it has been named the 2013 Library of the Year.
The honor comes from the magazine, Library Journal and Gale, a leading publisher of research and reference resources for libraries, schools and businesses. Annually, the award goes to one of the 21,000 public and academic libraries in the United States, Canada and Mexico.
According to a release from Cengage Learning, an educational content, software and services company that includes Gale, the winner is the library that "most profoundly demonstrates creativity, leadership and innovation in developing signature events and initiatives, particularly those that can be emulated by others."
"Through unique partnerships with various community groups, innovative programming and a strong focus on education for all, HCLS has truly become a staple in local residents' lives," Library Journal publisher Ian Singer said in a release.
"This prestigious award validates our vision: we are public education for everyone," HCLS President and CEO Valerie Gross said. "The recognition also celebrates the outstanding work of our remarkable team of innovative educators and support staff who design and deliver a first-rate curriculum for the benefit of our diverse and dynamic community."
The Howard County Library System was established in 1940, and includes six branches that serve more than 280,000 residents. Of those residents, about 90 percent have and use library cards. The library system has the highest borrowing per capita rate in the state, with 7.1 million items checked out every year.
According to Cengage, the system's standing as an educational institution is what sets it apart from other libraries.
Gale and Library Journal cited the system's three pillars of self-directed education, research assistance and instruction and instructive and enlightening experiences as reasons for the award.
"We design and deliver a high-quality curriculum for the benefit of a diverse community," Gross said. "And how do we do this? With creativity, with innovation, with expertise, with professionalism and always with extraordinary customer service."
Gross discussed the award at a news conference Wednesday afternoon, attended by County Executive Ken Ulman and other local elected officials like County Council member Calvin Ball.
"To earn such a prestigious honor is reflective of our commitment to educating and empowering our citizens," Ball said. "Having partnered with our library on activities for all of our citizens, including Money Matters, I'm proud that we have invested in the library and the library has invested in our community."
Since taking office in 2006, Ulman and the county council have increased funding to the library system by 38 percent, from $12.9 million to $17.7 million.
The library system will be featured in a June 15 cover story for Library Journal. The award will be formally presented at a gala reception at the American Library Association Annual Conference in Chicago on June 30.