022: Valerie Gross, Education for All

Valerie Gross, MM, MLS, JD, is President and CEO of an educational organization with a multi-million dollar budget, hundreds of employees, and seven locations – the Howard County, MD Library System. Her mission-driven approach is a model for similar organizations throughout the U.S. and internationally. She is an attorney who is a member of the California Bar, and she’s an accomplished vocalist. And, she and her husband are the proud parents of a professional tennis player.


At a time, when it’s not uncommon to hear that libraries have become irrelevant, Valerie and her team are serving the community in unexpected ways. And the results are clear. Visits to Howard County libraries are up from one to three million in the past decade, items borrowed have doubled to 7.3 million, and research assistants, and attendance at events has almost quadrupled to 306,000. Her staff are adaptable and pride themselves on offering excellent customer service and they study best practices from successful corporations.


04-3Valerie is at the forefront of a movement to bring public libraries back into view as educational institutions alongside the community college and K-12 public schools. She and her team have created programs such as A+ Partners in Education, Choose Civility, Summer Reading, The Enchanted Garden, Teen Centers, live homework assistance, and even a STEM center where students do hands-on projects like building and launching a weather balloon. One library branch will even be loaning tools like ladders and hammers, and offering instruction on basic home improvement projects.


Listen to this podcast to hear Valerie discuss the evolution of her career, her favorite book series, personal practices, and how her library system gets ever better. We also discuss:

  • Three pillars of Libraries = Education
    • Self-directed education
    • Research assistance & instruction
    • Instructive & enlightening experiences
  • Three branches of public education: library, community college, and K-12 public schools
  • The history of libraries; they were established in the U.S. before the public school system
  • Transitioning from working for a law firm to managing a public library system
  • Similarities between Berkley, CA and Howard County, MD
  • Cultural diversity in Howard County and especially Columbia, MD
  • HI! The Howard County Library logo
  • Balancing her love of music and art with her work
  • Programs such as:
    • Choose Civility, an on-going movement led by the library involving numerous community partners with activities, forums, books, and car magnets encouraging considerate conduct based on the book by P.M. Forni.
    • Choose Civility Hackathon
    • Battle of the Books involving 5th graders from every Howard County elementary school
    • Summer reading program
    • What’s in my artbox?
    • The Enchanted Garden
  • Branch features like: Teen centers, STEM areas, a Do-It-Yourself (DIY) center
  • How musical training and performing prepares one for giving presentations