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Director's Column

PLSJC Director Alan Hall writes a weekly column discussing library and community news, history, and other interesting subjects.

Obama and Libraries

By Alan Hall, Director, PLSJ
Publish Date - Sunday, January 18, 2009

This week we will witness the inauguration of another President of the United States.


In the case of President-Elect Obama, we have his thoughts on libraries, as he was a keynote speaker at the 2005 American Library Association Conference.


Held in Chicago in 2005, the ALA Conference keynoter was interviewed by Leonard Kniffel, editor of publications for ALA.


One of his questions was, "Can you tell us more about the effect libraries have had on you?"


He stated that while people tend to think of libraries in terms of just being sources for reading material or research, it was a librarian at the New York Public Library who helped you find the community organizing job that you were looking for.


"I probably would not be in Chicago were it not for the New York Public Library in Manhattan," said Obama.


The librarian had identified potential employers, and Obama said that he wrote to every one of them and wound up in Chicago working for an organization there.


Obama's keynote address in 2005 became the cover story for "American Libraries" journal for the August issue of that year.


"Reading is the gateway skill that makes all other learning possible" was the caption of the story.


He connects reading to making us true citizens.


A library is a "window to a larger world, the place where we've always come to discover big ideas and profound concepts that help move the American story forward," according to Obama.


His thoughts have been echoed over the years by those who nickname the public library as the "People's University."


Much of Obama's comments related to children, and the opportunity they receive from their local libraries.


He stated, "I believe that if we want to give our children the best possible chance in life, then one of our greater responsibilities as parents is to insure that every American child can read and read well."


"We have to get books into our children's hands early and often."


"There's nothing we want more than to nurture the sense of wonder in our children."


As a parent, I remember my own son showing the wonder and interest in books that he himself selected from the library collection.


Some books sparked an interest, others did not.  But all of them opened doors for his future, cultivated by us as parents, and the many teachers that provided intellectual stimulation at school.


Obama concluded by stating, "knowledge is literally power, unlocking the gates of opportunity and success."


He challenged librarians to promote libraries through book clubs and contests, homework help and advertising our services throughout the community.