The Howard County Library system -- which for years has aggressively developed reading programs -- has received an $80,850 federal grant to start an ambitious adult reading and discussion program in the humanities throughout the mid-Atlantic region.
Howard is one of only four library systems in the nation to receive such a grant this year from the National Endowment for the Humanities, and is the only one to receive the full amount it applied for, said James Turner, an NEH spokesman.
That distinction is due in large part to the work of Patricia Bates, adult program coordinator for the Howard County Library, he said.
"She was one of the pioneers of the reading discussion programs," said Mr. Turner, noting that Ms. Bates developed such a program in 1971 in Vermont that was duplicated across the nation.
Ms. Bates said the NEH grant will fund adult reading and discussion programs at more than 50 libraries, seniors sites and workplaces in Howard and across Maryland, northern Virginia, southern and central Pennsylvania and Washington. Specific locations have yet to be determined.
"We're reaching a whole population that doesn't come to the library," Ms. Bates said.
In 1989, she received the NEH's Charles Frankel Prize, honoring scholars who have increased the public's understanding of history, literature, philosophy and other topics in the humanities.
Ms. Bates said she believes that Howard's application was chosen because Howard libraries use money wisely.
"I think it's the fact that we recycled so many of the materials and resources that have been funded in the past," she said. "I think it's our track record."
The scholar-led discussion and reading program, called "Books Bridge the Gap," will begin later this month and run through March 1998, Ms. Bates said.
Participants will read books and watch videos on such topics as American history, foreign policy, poetry and women's issues.
Works to be discussed in the program include poems by Rita Dove, Gwendolyn Brooks and Charles Wright and books such as Zora Neale Hurston's "Dust Tracks on a Road" and Gustave Flaubert's "Madame Bovary."
"People from all walks of life" will be provided books to read and discuss, Ms. Bates said. "To me that's what the humanities are all about. It's the sharing of ideas based on fact, not on opinion."
She added: "If the world is to be saved, it'll happen through the humanities -- the studies of humanities. We have to look at history to save our future."
Though the program is a regional one, many of the beneficiaries will be residents of Howard County -- a hotbed of library users. There are 190,000 Howard residents who have library cards to borrow books from the central library, its four branches and a community center in Lisbon, Ms. Bates said.
The grant comes at a time when adult programs at libraries are growing in general.
"I think more and more libraries understand we do need adult programs," Ms. Bates said. "And the library is the best place to hold them. It's a non-threatening meeting place. So why not promote them?"
Mr. Turner, of NEH, said he believes that the adult reading programs will fill a void.
"Most of us think of our formal education as ending after college," he said. "However, there is a continued thirst for knowledge through the course of our lives."
For information about the Books Bridge the Gap program, call Patricia Bates at 313-7768.