Sunday, January 25, 2009

From: Erskine College Netnews 12.10.08

Mary Elizabeth Beardsley Land, a 1990 graduate of Erskine College, has received the 2008 Louise Seaman Bechtel Fellowship, a prestigious award given annually to one librarian in the United States.

Land majored in English and psychology at Erskine and has also earned master's degrees from Clemson University (in English) and Long Island University (in library science).

She is director of the Abbeville County Library System.

"My interest in libraries certainly grew partly out of the love for literature that professors like Joan Little and Bruce Carlock fostered while I was at Erskine," Land said.

The Bechtel Fellowship, coordinated through the American Library Association (ALA), will enable Land to conduct research on children's literature at the Baldwin Library of Historical Children's Literature, part of the George A. Smathers Libraries at the University of Florida, which contains a special collection of 85,000 volumes of children's literature published mostly before 1950.

The focus of Land's study, "Home for the Holidays: the Depiction of Holiday Themes in Books for Children," is described in an announcement of her award on the ALA Web site: "By reading materials that portray holiday traditions, images, themes and values from different time periods, she will study how literature affects children's expectations and memories of family holidays."

Land told Henry Green of the Abbeville Press and Banner that much of what she learns in her research "can be used for story time programs and other events" sponsored by the library system.

"I grew up -- as many of us did -- spending hours every week at the public library," Land said. "Some of my earliest memories are of story times at the local library in Teaneck, New Jersey, wearing an elephant name tag and marching along in a circle with the other preschoolers."

Today, as director of a library system, she sees the importance of the library "for all age groups, from toddlers at story time, to high school students looking for a good book and a place to hang out, to retirees, reading the papers and e-mailing their grandkids who live away."

But what about all those entertainment technologies that seem to compete with curling up with a good book?

"Despite the concerns you hear about the demise of reading and the printed word, if you look around, I think you'll see just the opposite," Land said. "The huge popularity of the 'Twilight' series by Stephenie Meyer, for example, has teenagers flocking to libraries and bookstores around the country. Book clubs are thriving, and children continue to feel the lure of a good story."

Land cites local statistics to support her optimistic view. "Here in Abbeville County, our circulation of materials has more than doubled in the past five years."

In difficult times, public libraries can be especially important, according to Land. "As economic downturns occur, libraries become even more valuable to citizens who can use the library for free books, movies, magazines and Internet access."

Land lives in Abbeville with her husband Christopher. She has served as an adjunct professor of English at Erskine College.