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Undesign the Redline

Howard County Library System

Contact: Christie Lassen,

Type of Initiative: Civic Engagement

Community Partners: Columbia Association, Enterprise Community Partners, Friends & Foundation of HCLS, Howard Community College and #OneHoward.


As part of its Choose Civility initiative, Howard County Library System (HCLS) is currently hosting an interactive exhibit to launch a public discussion about how a discriminatory federal policy from the 1930s still resonates in communities today. Undesign the Redline, an in-depth visual display, explores the history of structural racism and classism in America that began in the 1930s when color-coded "residential security maps" were created to show risk areas for federal backing of newly invented home ownership programs. The exhibit features an introduction to the concept, relative local maps, an historic timeline, personal stories, and a public input section.

HCLS collection specialists compiled reading lists, and HCLS instructors facilitated book discussions, taught classes, and presented seminars related to the topics raised in the exhibit. A trained facilitator from one of the partnering organizations led monthly reflection sessions for people who had toured the exhibit and wished to process their experiences. HCLS’ September podcast episode featured the co-creator of the exhibit, and Richard Rothstein, author of The Color of Law, a forgotten history of how our government segregated America. Trained staff and volunteers lead public tours three days a week and private group tours on request.

A robust communications plan supported the exhibit. Elements included e-blasts to more than 100 Choose Civility community partners and other targeted groups, HCLS quarterly magazine, web pages, social media posts, branch displays, banners inside and outside the host branch, postcards and flyers distributed throughout the community, banners on light poles near the host branch, and transit ads. In addition, personal outreach to PTAs and other community groups has proved effective.

To date, hundreds of students (through field trips and extra-credit assignments), school administrators and faculty (through New Teacher Orientation and Professional Development Days), community groups, elected officials, and the public have toured the exhibit. Originally scheduled to run August through December 31, 2018, HCLS just extended the exhibit through February 2018 due to popular demand.