Wednesday, May 18, 2011

A Reflection on My Mother and the Power of the Public Library

The Louisville Free Public Library
It has been very quiet here at the JCL blog the last few weeks and that is because my mother passed away. She was almost 82 and in very poor health, but even so, I was not prepared. I don't think anyone is ever prepared to lose their mother. The saying, "No one will ever love you like your mother" is very true.

One of the many things I am thankful for is the gift of reading that my mother gave to me. My mother and father divorced when I was eight and my younger sister, mother and I moved to Louisville, KY to live with my grandmother for a brief period before moving into our own, small apartment. We were very poor with no vehicle or television, but my mother was an avid reader. So on weekends, we would walk about five miles to the Louisville Free Public Library. We would take a rolling cart with us and bring back mounds of books. My sister and I would even go by ourselves when mom couldn't go. We loved everything about the library: the gigantic building, the smell of the books, and getting my very own library card. I'll never forget the first time I walked into the children's department. It was the most beautiful place!

Considering my career, clearly this had a profound affect on me. I have moved many times since I lived in Louisville as a child, but I have had a library card in every place I've lived. Our publicly funded library system sends a very strong message: access to books and other reading material is vital to its citizenry. Yet, in this time of economic downturn, cuts for our public libraries are looming. A recent article stated:

Public libraries across the nation and the globe now face drastic funding cuts from politicians and administrators who often claim that they're obsolete. For months, Britain has been rumbling with protests against plans to close as many as 400 local branches. Earlier this year, Gov. Jerry Brown announced that he was cutting all state funding to California's libraries, leaving cities to pick up the slack. Defenders of such cutbacks typically ask why, in the age of Google and e-reader devices, anybody needs libraries.

To me, the answer is obvious. Not everyone has access to an eReader or Google; moreover, one can not experience the feelings I described earlier from an eReader or Google. There is nothing like the feeling you get from owning a library card -- it's like someone has handed you the key to knowledge. And knowledge is power. I felt that power every time I stepped into the Louisville Free Public Library. (you might be interested in a free webcast titled, "Libraries are Essential: Building an Ongoing Connection" sponsored by: EBSCO/Novelist, and Library Journal  on Tuesday, June 14, 2011– 2:00 PM EDT -- sign up here)

As a poor child growing up in the inner city, I was a statistic for having problems with reading. Yet, having access to books makes a difference. A recent NY Times article stated:

Indeed, numerous studies have shown that making books more accessible to children — through libraries, reading programs and home libraries — can produce marked improvements in their reading behavior. A meta-analysis published last August found that access to books plays a “causal role” in children’s motivation to read.

There are many factors that influence children’s reading and no one is claiming that books alone will solve the problem. However, some noted educators, such as Stephen Krashen, professor emeritus at the University of Southern California, have argued that “simply providing access is the first and most important step in encouraging literacy development.”

As the end of the school year comes closer, take a field trip to the local library and sign up every child in your classroom up for a library card who doesn't already have one. Your students will have access to books all summer long. It is a gift that keeps on giving. Libraries and caring adults can make a huge difference in children's lives.

Thanks, Mom. I love you.

1 comment:

SEMS Library Lady said...

What a beautiful memory of your mom. My mom died 33 years ago today, and I always tell my family and my middle school students that I knew my mom loved me very much because she would take me to the public library every day after school.

It sounds like we both were blessed with great mothers.