By Rebecca Jones

The Laurel Public Library is not resting on its recent laurels, as they continue to reach out to the community. On May 12, the library was recognized at the Maryland Library Association/Delaware Library Association Conference, with the 2023 Library-Institutional Award. 

“We were surprised. We didn’t even know we were nominated,” said Laurel Public Library’s Director Gail Bruce.

Rob Brown presents the Library/Institutional Award from the Delaware Library Association to Laurel Public Library Director Gail Bruce. Submitted photo

Cheryl Martin – a member of the Laurel town council – and Cheryl Mitchell – director of “Lunch with a Purpose” nominated the library for this honor. Katie McDonough, chair of DLA Scholarships, Awards and Citations Committee and administrative librarian for the Delaware Division of Libraries stated in a letter to Bruce that the award is “given to a library that has shown outstanding merit in serving its patrons and community by providing exceptional programs of activities.” 

Martin nominated the Laurel Public Library for the award based upon her appreciation for “the wonderful work that the librarians, staff, and volunteers do for the community throughout the year.” 

Mitchell nominated the library for the Distinguished Library Staff Citation due to the many programs the library offers for the community. Mitchell “found the entire staff to be among the most dedicated, innovative and supportive groups” Mitchell has worked with.

Bruce accepted the award on behalf of the Laurel Public Library from Rob Brown of Vital Church – who is also on the board of directors at the library. Bruce said all of the libraries in Delaware are doing amazing things in their communities. “In the last couple of years, we have had to cater to the needs of our community,” she said. “We are the poorest town in the state, according to Census records, so fitting the needs of the community is what we should be doing.”

Catering to the community includes hygiene stations in the downstairs restrooms. They are stocked with travel-sized toiletries and information for assistance, if needed. The library also has a food station still available outside, where the public can leave non-perishable items for those who need food assistance of some kind. The ideas for these two projects came from Bruce around the time of COVID. The restroom station began in 2019, when she read about a similar project happening in the youth area of a different library. She adapted it to suit the needs of those in Laurel. During COVID, she erected the food station as a way to help those who lost their jobs, or who had trouble with an individual’s food shortage. 

The library also features a “Teleservices Navigator,” which is available twice a week at the library. La Esperanza comes once a week. The Christiana Care Health Services van tends to the needs of those in the community on the fourth Friday of the month, while the TidalHealth Wellness van tends to the health needs of the community every third Wednesday of the month. Both health service vans park out front of Market Street Park. 

Gail Bruce grew up in Elkton, Md. and met a young Laurel man while they both attended Salisbury University. Not only did she fall in love with the man from Laurel, she grew to love the town as well. It’s where they’ve lived for the past 37 years, and where they raised their three children. She began working for the Laurel Public Library ten years ago, and became Youth Services Librarian in 2014, before taking on the leadership role of Library Director in 2018. 

As for the future, Bruce said, “We are open to whatever comes, and whatever we need to address in the community. The staff here is amazing. They have a heart for what we are doing. They are so good and so good to work with.”

Currently, they offer free after-school snacks for kids. During the summer they will do free lunches for children. She expressed excitement regarding the block party to be held on Market Street, Laurel on June 10 from 11 a.m. until 1 p.m. DJ Randy P – “The Positive One” – will be the disk jockey at the event, which will also feature: Cascading Carlos; The 501st Legion First State Garrison dressed as Star Wars characters; activities; prize raffles; non-profits with resources available for the public; games, a watermelon eating contest and more. It’ll be the official kick-off for the Summer Reading Program, held at libraries all over the country. 

“Libraries are for everybody,” said Bruce, “whether for information or passports, notaries at certain libraries. Check out your local library. They are vibrant, living buildings that people should explore.”