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For Immediate Release
Office of the First Lady
April 26, 2006

Mrs. Bush's Remarks at the 2006 Spring Meeting of the James Madison Council
The Library of Congress
Washington, D.C.


12:03 P.M. EDT

MRS. BUSH: Great to see you all. I was just in the neighborhood and I wanted to stop by -- (laughter) -- to see a group of library and book lovers.

Each one of you have a special place in my heart, and, in fact, in this room are a lot of very good long-time friends of mine, and I want to recognize every one of you and tell you thank you so much for what you do for the Library of Congress.

And thank you, Dr. Billington, for the very kind introduction. Usually when Dr. Billington introduces me, it's at the National Book Festival, where I'm brought in with a lot of ceremony -- kind of like a homecoming or a prom. (Laughter.) Sometimes he lets me bring President Bush along as an escort. So I'm glad today's welcome was a little more subdued. I think George was starting to get jealous. (Laughter.) Dr. Billington, thank you very much for the good work that you do as the Librarian of Congress.

And I also want to acknowledge the Madison Council's Chairman, Ed Cox, my good friend from Dallas, for the work that he does and that the Madison Council does. Thank you so much, Ed.

For 15 years, this group of private sector philanthropists has made sure that the Library of Congress' vast resources and collections are fully enjoyed by the American public.

One of the many projects you've been involved in is the National Book Festival. You've been a partner of the Library of Congress and of mine as we've produced this festival every year since 2001. Over the last five years, this event has brought thousands of people to Washington from across the country to meet their favorite authors and to have a chance to celebrate their love of reading on that day in September.

And I'll never forget the first Festival, which was just a few days before September 11th. It was the Saturday before September 11th on Tuesday, and the whole juxtaposition of the memories from that day, where people stood in line to get into the Library of Congress to hear David McCullough or many other of their favorite authors, and then what happened on September 11th I think really shows what we value in the United States. We value the free exchange of ideas, the written word, the chance to hear people of every persuasion talk, and to hear their ideas. And so that has a special memory in my heart, but I've loved every one of the festivals.

This year, the Festival will be on September 30th. I hope I'll see all of you here for that. The Library of Congress will have its own pavilion, and festival-goers can learn about the Library's Veteran History Project, which documents the stories of American veterans since World War I, going through today. And it documents the history of the millions of Americans who supported our veterans on the home front.

The Festival was founded to encourage reading, and we especially want to encourage young people who face so many competing demands for their attention that keep them from discovering and enjoying good books -- television, the internet, video games. So I want to thank the Council for your commitment to the National Book Festival, and also for your commitment to reading and to the young people across our country.

Over the last 15 years, you've also given the Library -- and the American people -- many gifts, including the important treasures of American history. Thanks to the Madison Council, the Library of Congress now has the famous Waldseemüller Map, which is the first map to name this land "America."

Martin Waldseemüller may have defined America's physical characteristics, but it was Thomas Jefferson who defined America's spirit: the principles of liberty and democracy that make our nation an enduring beacon of freedom around the world. And just as Jefferson shaped America, the books he read shaped him. Jefferson once said, "I cannot live without books." He sold his books -- 6,487 volumes' worth, in fact -- to Congress in 1815, after the British had burned the U.S. Capitol and the Library of Congress.

This personal library reflected Jefferson's wide-ranging interests: science, literature, art, philosophy, geography -- even wine-making. But in 1851, another Capitol fire destroyed two-thirds of this priceless collection.

As part of the Library's Bicentennial Celebration in 2000, the Madison Council reconstructed Jefferson's Library and placed the collection on view to the public. With the help of the Council, the Library has found among its own collections duplicate editions of many of the original Jefferson volumes. And by purchasing volumes from rare-book dealers around the world, the Library is working to acquire copies of the 400 volumes that are still missing from Jefferson's first collection.

Earlier this week, I visited The Mount, because a group of Edith Wharton fans formed a preservation group to buy and restore her former home in Lenox, Massachusetts. As part of the restoration, this group has acquired Edith Wharton's personal library, which had been preserved and catalogued by a British bookseller. I was at The Mount day before yesterday to celebrate the return of Edith Wharton's library to Massachusetts from England.

The preservation of Edith Wharton's personal library, and your work rebuilding Thomas Jefferson's library, have been painstaking labors of love. But the effort is worth it, because these priceless libraries preserve an important part of America's past.

And today, I want to talk to you a minute about another important library rebuilding effort, one that's vital to America's future. Last summer, Hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Wilma ravaged the Gulf Coast, destroying homes and families and lives. And as the floodwaters receded, and as people took stock of the damage, they realized that the roaring winds and the surging seas had also swept away thousands and thousands of books -- historic manuscripts, family Bibles, and entire school library collections.

I've made several trips to the Gulf Coast since the hurricanes, including a visit to New Orleans earlier this month to meet with the chief state school officers from the five states affected by the storms. I listened to the concerns these school officers have as they oversee and organize the rebuilding of whole school districts in their states.

And this is really unprecedented. Never have state school officers and school superintendents had to oversee the rebuilding of whole school districts in our history.

As Americans along the Gulf Coast rebuild, and as thousands of families who left communities start to return, we have to make sure they have good schools to come back to. For many children, going to school is the only familiar routine they have left, and so it's a very important part of the recovery.

In July 2001, the Laura Bush Foundation for America's Libraries was established to help school libraries expand their book collections. Over the last four years, the Foundation has awarded 428 grants, totaling more than $2 million in 49 states. And we're about to announce this year's round of grants to 200 more schools in the U.S. But shortly after the hurricanes, the leadership council of the Foundation met for what was going to be our final meeting, but at that meeting, we determined to establish a special fund to help the schools in the Gulf Coast region. So in March, I announced the Gulf Coast School Library Recovery Initiative.

This initiative will help Gulf Coast schools that were damaged by the hurricanes rebuild their book and material collections for their school libraries. And the task is large. According to the U.S. Department of Education, 1,121 public and private schools in the Gulf Coast region were damaged or destroyed. The basic cost of building a book collection for an elementary school is about $50,000. And the cost for a secondary school library collection is usually over $100,000.

Next week, we'll announce the Gulf Coast schools that will be receiving the first round of grants. Throughout the year, additional grants will be distributed as more schools are rebuilt and ready to stock their libraries.

With us today is a Madison Council member who also serves on the Laura Bush Leadership Council. He's the one who said, "Let's not disband our committee, let's do what we can to help these Gulf Coast school libraries." So I want to thank Marshall Payne, who now, because he said that, is the Task Force Committee Chair. (Laughter and applause.)

I also want to acknowledge Ruth Altschuler. Is Ruth here? No, she didn't come today. But she has also been on the Laura Bush Leadership Council from the very first. Marshall knows how vital school libraries are to the Gulf Coast recovery, and how desperate children are there for books.

Across the region, librarians are doing everything they can to make sure children traumatized by the storm have a book to read, to give them something that's theirs, a sense of ownership. As one school principal said, "These kids have lost everything -- a book in their hands allows them at least to escape from all of this for a little while."

Today I urge you to learn more about how you can help the Gulf Coast school library rebuilding. C.S. Lewis once wrote: "We read to know we are not alone." In new books, children affected by the hurricanes can find stories like theirs -- of loss and of grief, but also of kindness and courage and hope.

The Madison Council and the Library of Congress is dedicated to bringing the hope and joy of reading to families and young people all across America. So thank very much for welcoming me here today. Thank you for your commitment to the Library of Congress and to all America's libraries. And I hope I'll see you September 30th at the National Book Festival.

Thank you very much. (Applause.)

END 12:15 P.M. EDT

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