Monday, February 14, 2011

President Who Loved Libraries!

Mixing it up a bit with the two holidays that are celebrated in February. Today we celebrate Valentine's Day. A day to celebrate feelings of romance and friendship by sending a card decorated with hearts and flowers. Cute little phrases like "Be Mine" or "Friends Forever" are stamped onto heart shaped candy to validate our affection for others. February is also the month in which we celebrate Presidents. Most notably Washington and Lincoln, since their birthdays are in this month of Love. With this in mind, I began to wonder if we could find Presidents who actively supported libraries. This venture took longer than I originally thought. However, the task of searching for the answer did not go in vain. Indeed, there are at least ten Presidents who supported libraries and used them often. It wouldn't surprise me if every single President used and enjoyed the library's resources, after all they were smart men who occupied the Oval Office. Having said that, the list of ten that are placed on the list, there is concrete proof to back up the assertion that these men supported and used libraries.

George Washington had many virtues to emulate. However, not returning library books is not one that should be followed. In the dusty records of the New York Society Library there lies the "ugly" truth that the First President checked out the book : The Law of Natons by Emer de Vallet. Better late than never, the book was returned 221 years later by the museum at Mount Vernon.

The second President of the United States, John Adams signed a bill to spend $5,000 to purchase 740 volumes and three maps from England for the collection of the new Library of Congress, which was housed in the Capitol.

Thomas Jefferson followed in Adams' footprints to help the library build it's collection Jefferson sold 6,487 books, which was his entire personal collection, to the library in 1815. Jefferson strongly felt that "a government was best served by an informed and involved citizenry” Not only is he credited with uttering those words, he also stated to James Madison, " Books constitute capital. a library book lasts as long as a house, for hundreds of years. it is not then an article of mere consumption but fairly of capital." Lucky for librarians today, we still have his words to drive home the point of the the library's "value" in our society.

Between the Third and Thirteenth President, there are no documented records of these Presidents showing support for libraries. The Thirteenth President, Millard Fillmore, who became part of the Know-Nothing movement after his presidency, really did know quite a lot. Upon finding that the White House was devoid of books, Fillmore established the collection for the White House Library. This is where the President will on occasion address the Nation.

Our beloved Sixteenth President, Abraham Lincoln was a self-educated man. Young Abe had taught himself Law, became President and was an avid reader. The argument can be made that not only did President Lincoln use a library to further his education. He was also the first President to support "Story time". Need proof? John Hay, Lincoln’s personal secretary, wrote in his diary that Lincoln read Shakespeare aloud to him until he could no longer keep his eyes open. Lincoln then sent him off to sleep. (Had Mr Lincoln consulted a Children's librarian, they may have given him a tip or two on how to keep your story time audience involved.)

Sixteen presidents later, another president comes to support libraries. Well known for his New Deal programs, Franklin D. Roosevelt established federal funding for libraries. In 1941 Roosevelt issued a proclamation supporting libraries as "essential to the functioning of a democratic society".

Harry S. Truman, the Thirty-third president, shared his Predecessor's view of the local library. His contribution to this list is a personal one. In his memoirs, Truman recalled that as a boy he read all the books in the local library. That's quite an accomplishment. It's too bad they didn't have Reader's Advisory at libraries back in his day. Librarians would have loved to have had him help patrons choose books!

As the Thirty-fourth President, Dwight D. Eisenhower gave the speech at the Dartmouth College Commencement Exercises on June 14, 1953. His words were stirring as he spoke about censorship. "Don't be afraid to go in your library and read every book, as long as that document does not offend our own ideas of decency. That should be the only censorship."
This list could not be complete without adding President George W. Bush, our Forty-third President. Not only did he marry a school librarian, Laura, who is the first librarian to hold the title of First Lady, he is also a book worm. As an avid reader and competitor, he was known to challenge Karl Rove on how many books they could read in year. Rove won three years straight but give Bush a break. After all, he was tied up with a full time job as President of the United States. Bush has stated, "Libraries promote the sharing of knowledge, connecting people of all ages with valuable information resources. These dynamic and modern institutions, and the librarians who staff them, add immeasurably to our quality of life." Contrary to what Paul McCartney would like everyone to believe, George W. does know what a library is and how it affects our society.

Last on the list is our current President. It was interesting to find that Barack Obama made this statement as a Senator "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." This is an excellent endorsement for why children need and deserve libraries. These words should be plastered on every library's door. There are many moments when I disagree with the President, but got to give credit where credit is due. This time, he hit he nail on the head.

All of these endorsements from our Past Presidents should be used in one way or another to promote and protect our libraries. It seems it doesn't matter if you are Democrat, Republican, or Independent, it is a presidential act to support and love libraries. Share this with community leaders, they need to be reminded this President's Day that libraries are great!
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