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December 2011, Week 3

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A Salute to Libraries and Librarians

Your work is truly life changing

by Caroline Kennedy

@your library - The Campaign for America's Libraries
American Library Association

December 13, 2011

http://www.atyourlibrary.org/culture/caroline-kennedy-librarians-your-work-truly-life-changing

[Kennedy is keynote speaker at Carnegie Corporation of New
York/New York Times I Love My Librarian Award Ceremony

Last week, Caroline Kennedy was the keynote speaker at the
Carnegie Corporation of New York/New York Times I Love My
Librarian Award Ceremony in New York City. The program is
administered by the American Library Association's Campaign
for America's Libraries. The event honored ten librarians
who were recognized for service to their communities,
schools and campuses. More than 1,700 library patrons
nominated a librarian. The event also was part of Carnegie
Corporation's Centennial Celebration. Here are Kennedy's
remarks]

Good evening and thank you for inviting me to join you at
this special celebration.

First, I would like to thank The New York Times for hosting
us, and Janet Robinson for your continued commitment to
schools and libraries. We all would like to have had you as
a teacher.

I would also like to salute Vartan (Gregorian) whose passion
for libraries and learning is unparalleled and contagious.
You are a worthy heir to Andrew Carnegie and have been a
wonderful friend to my mother, and my uncle Teddy.

And finally I would like to thank one of the educators I
most admire, Barbara Stripling, the Director of Library
Services at the NYC Department of Education. Barbara has
transformed school libraries throughout this city. She is a
generous friend, an inspirational leader and has made a real
difference in the lives of the 1.1 million students in NYC
public schools.

I am honored to join you tonight to celebrate ten
outstanding librarians and the thousands more that you
represent. This award is truly significant because the
nominations received from across the country show that
libraries continue to play a critical role in our democracy,
and that librarians are once-again on the front lines of a
battle that will shape the future of our country. It is a
battle that is fought out of view and the heroes are people
who didn't seek a career of confrontation, but who live
lives of principle and meaning - understanding that the gift
of knowledge is the greatest gift we can give to each other.

One of the hallmarks of a great civilization is the
preservation of and access to information- libraries. We all
know that the library at Alexandria was one of the Wonders
of the Ancient World. And we have all learned that our
founding fathers believed that libraries were essential to
the growth of America. Benjamin Franklin helped to found the
Library Company of Philadelphia, and Thomas Jefferson`s
personal library became the library of Congress.

But this illustrious history doesn't explain why libraries
are a so often under attack -- even in our own time. Why it
is that Mao's army destroyed Tibetan libraries? Why did the
Germans target the medieval library in Louvain, Belgium and
follow that with the sweeping destruction and confiscation
of libraries throughout central Europe? Why did the Serbs
burn the great multi-cultural Bosnian National Library? And
here at home, why were nine people arrested in 1961 during
the first "read-in" at a segregated public library in
Jackson, Mississippi? And why did the Patriot Act seek to
obtain the personal borrowing records of library patrons?
Not only because libraries are important symbols of a
civilized society, but because they are, in a sense,
tabernacles of personal freedom: freedom of thought, freedom
of expression, freedom of opportunity and the true test of
liberty - freedom to dissent.

In times of great political turmoil, libraries are a bastion
of civil liberties, but in calmer times, they are integrated
into every aspect of our lives. One of the most exciting
rituals of childhood is getting your first library card, and
last year, one-third of all Americans over the age of 15, or
77 million people, used a public library.  There could be no
more compelling statistic yet once again, libraries are
under attack, this time from an insidious adversary-
indifference and lack of funds. New York, one of the more
generous states, allocates only $6.25 per student for
library books, not enough to buy even one book and Congress
allocated ZERO to the Improving Literacy through School
Libraries Office. When times are tough, access to knowledge
is seen as a luxury not a necessity, though in a difficult
economic climate, we know that people need and use libraries
more than ever.

Libraries are no longer hushed reading rooms but busy social
hubs for the exchange of life skills and information. They
have become community centers in the very best sense- places
where we build community and weave together lives and
dreams. The unemployed come to find job training and job
opportunities, new immigrants come to learn English,
students use the library for college readiness and college
access, and adolescents can explore difficult social and
emotional issues in the safe space of a library.

I have seen this first-hand in my work with the NYC public
schools. Classroom libraries play a vital role in student's
intellectual development, and school libraries fill a larger
void in their lives. A great school library becomes the
heart of the school and the center of the larger community.
A great school librarian understands that kids can't succeed
without the support of parents, teachers, business partners
and 21st century research and writing skills.

That is why we have made libraries a special focus of NYC
school reform efforts. Under Barbara Stripling's leadership,
the DOE has created a new curriculum which is a national
model, and trained an energized, creative, professional
cadre of school librarians who understand that they have the
power to make a difference, that they are no longer the
person who just keeps the books in order, and tells everyone
to be quiet, but that they are one of the most important
teachers that the students have.

At the Fund for Public Schools we have learned that when a
principal and a librarian work together to make literacy a
real priority, a relatively small amount of money can make a
huge difference in the culture of not just a school library
but an entire school community. Over the past eight years we
have given $8.5 million to schools in 225 small competitive
grants to bring school libraries up-to-date technologically,
support family literacy workshops, build collections for
English language learners, and provide comfy furniture where
kids can hang out with a book. Now, as we move towards
implementation of the Common Core standards, the role of the
librarian is becoming even more important. We need visionary
librarians who understand how to integrate technology into
their curriculum and who can help students learn the higher-
order critical thinking skills they will need to succeed.

The other library that I am part of is the Kennedy Library
in Boston. In addition to preserving the documents and
archival record of my father's Presidency for scholars and
researchers, thanks to my husband's far-reaching vision, the
Kennedy Library has broken free from its Boston home. To
celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of my father's
Presidency, we embarked on a multi-year effort to digitize
his papers, correspondence, memos, speeches, photos, and
film holdings. The record of his Presidency is now available
on-line to a world-wide audience in their own languages. We
have also created a website for students - jfk50.org- with
down-loadable curricula and exhibits - where users can also
upload their own testimonials about service in the spirit of
President Kennedy.

None of these efforts would have been possible without
dedicated, committed and visionary librarians. Professionals
who are excited about their changing role in a changing
world - who are dedicated to serving others, who respect
scholarship, and who understand that you are our guides on a
life long journey of intellectual collaboration and
collaborative composition.

Your work is truly life changing. As Ralph Waldo Emerson
wrote so many years ago, "Be a little careful about your
library. Do you foresee what you will do with it? Very
little to be sure. But the real question is, 'What will it
do with you?' You will come here and get books that will
open your eyes, and your ears, and your curiosity, and turn
you inside out or outside in."

Congratulations and thank you.

___________________________________________

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