force for good
Librarians are more than bookworms buried in stacks of books.
They are information specialists and protectors of individuals
freedom to access information.
Theres no one who has explained the role of libraries
and literacy better than Barack Obama, who is currently trying
to be the Democratic Partys representative in the upcoming
US presidential election.
When Obama delivered the opening address to the American Library
Association (ALA) in August 2005, he received a standing ovation
for his speech, which was turned into an article in the August
2005 edition of American Libraries, the magazine for the ALA.
Here are some excerpts from Obamas speech:
you open up scripture, the Gospel according to John, it starts:
In the beginning was the Word. Although this has
a very particular meaning in scripture, more broadly what
it speaks to is the critical importance of language, of writing,
or reading, of communication, of books as a means of transmitting
culture and binding people.
A library, Obama says, is more than a building. (It)
represents a window to a larger world, the place where weve
always come to discover big ideas and profound concepts that
the human story forward. Thats the reason
why, since ancient antiquity, whenever those who seek power
would want to control the human spirit, they have gone after
libraries and books.
Obama says power-hungry people bent on stifling freedom of
speech have targeted libraries throughout history.
its the ransacking of the great library at Alexandria,
controlling information during the Middle Ages, book burnings,
or the imprisonment of writers in former communist bloc countries,
the idea has been that if we can control the word, if we can
control what people hear and what they read and what they
comprehend, then we can control and imprison them, or at least
imprison their minds.
worth pondering at a time when truth and science are constantly
being challenged by political agendas and ideologies, at a
time when language is used not to illuminate but rather to
obfuscate, at a time when there are those who would disallow
the teaching of evolution in our schools, where fake science
is used to beat back attempts to curb global warming or fund
a time when book banning is back in vogue, libraries remind
us that truth isnt about who yells the loudest, but
who has the right information.
Obama points out that faith does not contradict fact and
liberty depends upon our ability to access the truth.
what libraries are about, says Obama. At the moment
that we persuade a child, any child, to cross that threshold,
that magic threshold into a library, we change their lives
forever, for the better. Its an enormous force for good.
Librarians, Obama points out, have stood against the forces
that seek to stifle the flow of information.
political groups tried to censor great works of literature,
you (librarians) were the ones who put Huckleberry Finn and
Catcher in the Rye back on the shelves, making sure that our
access to free thought and free information were protected.
In his speech, Obama also addresses the growing problem of
a few generations ago it was possible to enter into the workforce
with a positive attitude, a strong back, willing to work,
says Obama. And it didnt matter if you were a
high school dropout
That economy is long gone. And its
not coming back.
Todays world, he says, demands more skills. These
new jobs are not simply about working hard, theyre about
what you know and how fast you can learn what you dont
know. They require innovative thinking, detailed comprehension
and superior communication.
Those skills, Obama, argues, can only be obtained through
before our children can even walk into
an interview for a job
they must be able to pick up
a book and read it and understand it.
Obama calls reading the gateway skill. He states
that reading is what makes all other learning possible,
from complex word problems and the meaning of our history
to scientific discovery and technological proficiency. And
by the way, its whats required to make us true
Obama raises a startling question. In a knowledge economy
where this kind of skill is necessary for survival, how can
we send our children out into the world if theyre only
reading at (the level of a ten-year-old)? Yet this,
Obama says, is exactly what is happening in the US.
In a country that keeps good statistics, Obama claims one
out of every five adults in the US cannot read a simple story
to a child and in the last 20 years, ten million children
reached graduation unable to read at a basic level. He says
only 32 per cent of ten-year-olds are testing as reading proficient.
And the picture gets even grimmer for low-income people. One
can only wonder about the statistics in the Caribbean.
not enough just to recognise the words on the page anymore,
says Obama. The kind of literacy necessary for the 21st
century requires detailed understanding and complex comprehension.
Obama says the problem is that as a nation Americans have
not changed their whole mindset about education in general.
When it comes to education, T&T has not changed its mindset
either. We remain hopelessly stuck in the past, trying to
teach in the way that we did 100 years ago. We are not a nation,
or indeed even a region of readers, and that is having tragic
consequences in our society.