Howard County libraries to launch lending ukulele kits

The Howard County Library wants everyone to know, you "Toucan" play a ukulele.

On July 1, the library system will reveal its first do-it-yoursef kits starring the four-string instrument, a case and a tuner along with its symbol for the program, a toucan strumming a ukulele.

"We're having some fun with this," said Valerie Gross, president and CEO of the library system. "Who doesn't like the ukulele?"

Library patrons 13 years or older can check a kit out for three weeks from either the Miller, Glenwood, Central or Savage branches. Each location has six kits to lend. Online lessons will be available via ArtistWorks, an online premium research tool, according to Gross.

"It is the best and easiest string instrument to learn," said Jessica Landolt, children's instructor and research specialist for the library system. "You feel success right off the bat."

Landolt has been playing the ukulele since she was a child in Guam. When she joined the library system, she used both the ukulele and guitar in her classes and held a program for staff about integrating music into classes using the ukulele.

"From those folks who joined up and learned to play, we developed Diamonds in the Rough," said Landolt said.

The group of library staff members perform on the ukulele at various staff functions.

"We've been together a couple of years now. We really developed for professional development days we do every year," Landolt said. "Sometimes you do a lot of serious work and you need a break and live music to jazz things up a bit."

From those beginnings, the idea of a ukulele D.I.Y. kit arose. While the Elkridge Branch will feature a full collection of DIY projects when it reopens next year, the ukulele kits are a precursor of what's to come, Gross said.

"It was really the staff who suggested this and ran with it," Gross said.

"Valerie ... asked what new innovative ideas we had," Landolt said. "I said it would be really neat having a lending library of ukuleles. We have a band established on them. The staff is motivated."

The two-hour showcase on July 1 will reveal not only the ukuleles and the ArtistsWorks program, but a wealth of information, from books to popular recordings of ukulele music, in a party atmosphere complete with inflatable toucans. It is, however, only the first phase of the program.

In September, several classes will be offered on the ukulele, covering everything from basic chords to the instrument's history and place in pop culture, Landolt said. One class will end with the participants performing a small concert.

"I think it is going to be exciting," Landolt said. "A lot of people are impressed how much they can learn in a short time."

The release of the ukulele kits on July 1 also strikes a personal chord for members of Diamonds in the Rough. Last year, on July 12, staff member Joan Hynson, who was also an avid ukulele lover and fellow band member, died unexpectedly. Diamonds in the Rough played at her memorial.

"She would have been over the moon about it all," Landolt said. "Who would have thought you could come to the library and learn to play the ukulele?"

"We are always looking for something interesting to add," Gross said. "Ukuleles seem to be all the rage these days. It just brings smiles to people."

The library's program launches with a You "Toucan" Uke Showcase July 1, from 2 to 4 p.m., at the Glenwood, Miller and Savage branches; and from 2 to 6 p.m. at the Central Branch. For more information, call 410-313-7750.

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