The White House, President George W. Bush Click to print this document

For Immediate Release
Office of the First Lady
January 9, 2002

Mrs. Bush's Remarks at Topeka Public Library Gala
Topeka Public Library
Topeka, Kansas

Thank you Marge. Governor and Mrs. Graves and honored guests, it's great to be in Topeka, Kansas: America's wonderful heartland.

Mr. Leamon, Mr. Graves, I'm glad to join you tonight for what I know is a wonderful celebration for you and the patrons of the Topeka Public Library.

Having once worked as a librarian, I was interested in a little piece of history surrounding this library. It seems that around 1870, a group of gentlemen wished to establish a library to, in their words, "be a place where young men can meet and spend their evenings in reading or social amusements to improve the mind.and keep them from saloons and other places of vice."

The women of Topeka, wise beyond the men's expectations, were dismayed by the thought of it. They had ideas about the sorts of things that might really go on in a library created by and for men.

Within days, a group of women got together, and, being not only swift but also organized, they formed their own library, which opened on March 11, 1871 and featured 40 new books and a second-hand bookcase.

As I look around this historical place with its 100,000 square-foot addition, I try to imagine that first librarywhich was located in a corner of the carpet department of a local (Keith & Meyers) Dry Goods Store.

You've come a long way since then, but some things clearly haven't changed, including the determination and ingenuity needed to build not only a library, but also a community. It's a fine tradition, and I applaud you for successfully meeting your "Great Expectations" throughout history and again this year.

Ralph Waldo Emerson said: "Consider what you have in the smallest chosen library... a company of the wisest and wittiest men that could be picked out of all civil countries in a thousand years, who have recorded the results of their learning and wisdom."

Having once worked among such company as a librarian, I know how much this celebration of growth means to you all.

Libraries are at the heart of the American community - and have been since 1638, when a man named John Harvard donated money and books to create one of our nation's first libraries at a Cambridge, Massachusetts university. Granted, the community of library patrons was much smaller than it is today.

During the 17th and 18th Centuries, few people could read and write -- much less spend hours perusing library shelves and reading books by the masters of history and literature.

According to the 1773 Old Librarians Almanack, there were strict guidelines about who could use libraries. One rule stated, in short, that "No person younger than 20 years (save he be a student of more than 18 years and vouched by his tutor) is on any pretext to enter the library. Be suspicious of women. They are given to the reading of frivolous romances. You will make no error in excluding women all together."

Of course, the Old Librarians Almanack was actually a clever hoax, but it does seem to prove a point: In addition to the misconceptions found within libraries' strict rules, there have been a few misconceptions about librarians as well. In fact, as long as this profession has been around - and as you know, it dates all the way back to ancient Egypt - we have had to defend the image of the librarian.

Who would have guessed that over the years we'd grow weary of little old ladies with sensible shoes and their hair in a bun? Well, we don't wear our hair in buns. And we don't wear sensible shoes although right about now I wish that I had.

Of course there also have been misconceptions about public libraries, but more than ever we have begun to realize and fully appreciate that our public libraries are the only institutions that offer the whole of our society's information resources without bias. These public institutions are worthy of our support, and you have not only my support, but also President Bush's support.

The Bush Administration recognizes the important role that libraries and museums play in the nation's education system and in our communities. The Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) provides state grants and competitive awards to help America's museums and libraries expanding and improve their services.

The President's budget for FY 2003 includes a proposal for a $10 million initiative to recruit and train library professionals, which as some of you here tonight may know is vital.

In May 2000, Library Journal Magazine reported 40 percent of America's library directors plan to retire in nine years or less. And, according to the July 2000 monthly labor review, in 1998, 57 percent of professional librarians were age 45 or older.

To help recruit a new generation of librarians, this initiative will provide scholarships to graduate students in library and information science, support distance learning technology for training programs in undeserved areas, and recruit librarians with diverse language skills.

I applaud the Administration's commitment to America's public libraries and I'm proud of The President's support of librarians. He likes to joke about that. He says he's so fond of librarians that he married one.

When my husband was serving as Governor of Texas, we discovered that Texans loved to read as much as we do, and that passion and penchant for reading inspired an annual celebration of libraries and books called the Texas Book Festival, which is now in its seventh year.

I wanted to bring some of that same spirit to our nation's capital when we moved there in January. I was thrilled to help start a national book festival to celebrate the joy of books and reading this past September at the Library of Congress and around our nation's capitol building. And I am pleased to report that plans are underway for the second national book festival.

A favorite author of mine, a Texan named A.C. Greene wrote a lovely piece for the Library Journal in 1962. A.C. Greene grew up in Abilene where his grandmother was the librarian. His essay is called "A Library Was My Babysitter."

He wrote: "I was raised in a library. Brought up one book at a time, a page at a time, a word at a time. Raised from a hot, dry West Texas town to a world which time, travel and age have never yet combined to better - the world of the printed page.

"Call it impiety," Green writes, "but the very word 'library' has a sacredness to me that 'church' cannot gain. The sacredness is my own association, of course. It is thick walls and tall windows. It is quiet rustling and whispers of knowledge. It is cool and smelly with that exciting odor that can only be got from aging glue, printers ink, paper, leather and ideas together."

He concludes by saying: "I wouldn't trade one quiet summer afternoon of it, hunched over a world atlas in the cool and silent reference room, for having been reared the son of a Maharajah."

There's nothing quite like a trip to the library. Whether you choose a casual stroll down the aisles of books or a speedy trip along the information superhighway, libraries will allow you to journey as far and as wide as your imagination will go.

Thank you for making sure that your community will continue to have that opportunity. Congratulations to every library patron and bookworm here tonightand thank you very much to everyone who contributed to this success story. Good-night.

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