If you think of libraries as old, out-of-touch places where you’re wont to be shushed, Randallstown native Erica Palmisano is here to change your mind.
As a media relations and communications professional working for Baltimore County Public Library, it’s basically her job to show the world that libraries are not only still cool, but incredibly useful — so much so, in fact, that they just might make you a better person.
“The library has so many great things to talk about,” Palmisano begins, and the course of a conversation reveals many of them: access to Rosetta Stone language learning, a digital subscription to The New York Times, Kanopy streaming service, online courses through Lynda, legal advice from highly qualified lawyers, release-day eBooks and more … all for free.
“The library has changed so much in the 21st century,” she says. “We’ve modernized what we offer to our customers. It’s still going strong, and people come in all the time, but we want to make sure people know all the things we offer. It’s exciting to tell the story.”
Palmisano finds it particularly exciting as a longtime lover of libraries (“I still get butterflies when I walk into the Randalls- town Branch!”) and what they represent: safe community spaces meant to promote discussion and understanding. Perhaps people aren’t coming in to read a book, she says, but they could be coming in to use the Wi-Fi or to renew their passport or, in the case of some local kids, to get a free healthy lunch when they otherwise would have gone hungry.
“Baltimore County Public Library director Paula Miller calls libraries ‘instruments of democracy’ and I completely agree,” she says. “Everyone, no matter his or her circumstances, has equal access to information and public Wi-Fi, computers and loanable technology, which helps to bridge the digital divide.”
Which is not to discount, of course, the power of the book.
“Reading is the best way to develop empathy,” she says. “You’re putting yourself into different people’s experiences, and the more you learn about the world, the more empathetic you are.”
While she jokingly ponders whether her own love of reading as a child may have made her a bit too empathetic (think: endless tears over an animal in even the slightest distress), she still seeks to pass on a sense of global citizenship to her children — Juliet, 8, and Alexander, 6.
“They don’t eat anything but chicken nuggets, but I try to do a lot of different and interesting things with them,” she says, laughing. “My son threw a piece of paper on the ground the other day and I was horrified. I work so hard to teach them to be citizens of the world.”
Part of that means leading by example — Palmisano is a volunteer court-appointed special advocate for a teenager in foster care — but much of it, she says, falls to books.
“My kids like going to the library, and my daughter is actually convinced I’m a librarian,” she says. “We’re always going through the stacks and picking something new to read. There’s that saying, ‘You can travel anywhere with one book.’ It’s very true. The library is the window to the world.”
WHAT SHE’S WEARING
Maxi jumpsuit, $98, Patrons of Peace; distressed denim jacket, $98, Blank NYC; and raffia heels, $59, MIA Shoes; all at South Moon Under. Freshwater pearl and 14-carat gold-filled earrings, $140, and bracelet, $225, Kathryn Stanko MetaLace; and freshwater seed pearl bracelet, $255, Tana Acton; all at Amaryllis Jewelry.
MODEL: Erica Palmisano
PHOTOGRAPHER: David Stuck
STYLIST/WRITER: Kimberly Uslin
MAKEUP: Owen Michael O’Donnell