Washington White House Conference on School Libraries Checks Out Lessons for Success

Washington, DC - First Lady Laura Bush hosted a White House Conference on School Libraries today featuring the latest research and model programs. “School libraries help teachers teach and children learn,” noted Mrs. Bush, a former public school teacher and librarian. “Children and teachers need library resources – especially books - and the expertise of a librarian to succeed. Books, information technology, and school librarians who are part of the schools’ professional team are basic ingredients for student achievement,” Mrs. Bush said.

Mrs. Bush and her co-host Dr. Robert Martin, a career librarian and Director of the federal Institute of Museum and Library Services, were joined by education, library, government, and philanthropic leaders from across the country. The Institute of Museum and Library Services is a primary source of federal grants for the nation’s libraries and museums.

Dr. Martin said, “Mrs. Bush’s passion for reading, education and teaching is a great gift to our nation and to our nation’s children. We are delighted to have a librarian in the White House. And now we have the research to affirm what she has long known: good school libraries enhance children’s learning. Working together, equipped with the best research and examples of proven school library programs, librarians, teachers and school leaders can make a difference in student achievement.”

Dr. Martin noted, that “ research shows that reading scores for students in schools that focus on improving their library programs are, on average, eight to 21 percent higher than similar schools without such development. This holds true even when other factors like community demographics are taken into account.”

The conference focused on “what works in school libraries” with up-to-the-minute reports on policy, the latest research, successful local programs and innovative approaches to funding.

Dr. Vartan Gregorian, President of the Carnegie Corporation and former President of Brown University and the New York Public Library, spoke about the central role of libraries in literacy, reading and education.

Dr. Susan Neuman, the Assistant Secretary for Elementary and Secondary Education, U.S. Department of Education, is a former Professor and Director of the Center for the Improvement of Early Reading Achievement at the University of Michigan and has taught at Temple University, Boston College, the University of Massachusetts at Lowell and Yale University. She spoke on the critical importance of children’s access to books and the role of libraries in elementary and secondary education, and the importance of “teacher-librarians” working with both teachers and students.

Dr. Keith Curry Lance, Director of Library Research Service, State Library and Adult Education Office of the Colorado Department of Education, is the author of many landmark library studies. He spoke about his research establishing the link between school libraries and student achievement.

A panel of practitioners demonstrated how to put the theory to work for children and teachers. Dr. Steve Wisely, Professor and Superintendent, Medford School District, Medford, Oregon; Dr. Gary Hartzell, Professor, Educational Administration and Supervision, University of Nebraska at Omaha; Faye Kimsey-Pharr, Elementary School Principal, Lakeside Academy of Math, Science and Technology, Chattanooga, Tennessee; and Dr. Kathleen D. Smith, High School Principal, Cherry Creek High School, Cherry Creek, Colorado, spoke about their experiences with students, teachers and school libraries.

Christine DeVita, President, DeWitt Wallace-Reader’s Digest Fund, spoke about the role of philanthropy in enhancing school libraries. “Tall Tree, the Reader’s Digest Foundation Library Initiative launched in 1995, is reshaping the educational landscape by showing how schools and libraries together can enrich children’s learning experiences,” said Ms. DeVita.

At the close of the event, Mrs. Bush announced the names of the Leadership Council and Advisory Committee members who will lead the Laura Bush Foundation for America’s Libraries. Mr. J. W. (Bill) Marriott Jr., Chairman and CEO of Marriott International, will be Chairman of the Foundation’s Leadership Council. He is being joined by Mr. John H. Bryan, former Chairman of the Board of the Sara Lee Corporation, as Vice-Chairman, and by other outstanding national business leaders. Mrs. Pam Willeford will serve as Executive Director and Chairman of the Foundation’s Advisory Committee.

The Foundation was established in July, 2001, to help bring books to inner-city and rural school libraries. Mrs. Bush said, “the dedication and enthusiasm of the business leaders, philanthropists, teachers, librarians, and scholars who are leading the Foundation will help to put much needed books into the hands of young readers across the country.”

Mrs. Bush noted in closing the conference, “A good library launches young children on a journey of exploration and discovery, teaching them how to ask questions and find answers. And the wonderful thing is that once you learn to use a library, the doors to learning are open to you throughout your life.”

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