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The importance of literacy, school libraries

EDDIE BERNICE JOHNSON | 4/24/2017, 8:39 a.m.
Last week, April 9 through April 15, was National Library Week, a time to celebrate the contributions of our nation’s ...
eddie bernice johnson

U.S. House of Representatives

Last week, April 9 through April 15, was National Library Week, a time to celebrate the contributions of our nation’s libraries and those who have dedicated their lives to promote and maintain the use and value of these national treasures.

As the current administration puts forth harsh cuts across federal spending, now, more than ever, is the time to stand up for our nation’s libraries. For children growing up in working class households, libraries often serve as the only reliable source of affordable access to internet services and literacy-promoting materials. Some children grow up without computers or books, and libraries are, for some, the only thing keeping children from falling through the cracks of our broken education system.

As your member of Congress, I am dedicated to improving literacy in our district and throughout our country. It is a matter of not just moral import, but of economic security for our nation. That’s why every year, I lead an important, bipartisan effort to protect our nation’s libraries in conjunction with the American Library Association, called the Innovative Approaches to Literacy Program. My legislative efforts have resulted in the support of 146 of my House colleagues, Democrats and Republicans, to send a statement to those who write the budget that we need to put our libraries and literacy – our children at the forefront of our nation’s educational priorities.

While we celebrate the critical role libraries play throughout our schools and communities, we must also review how we remain the world’s leading economic power yet fail in our commitment to educate our youth.

First sponsored in 1958, this year’s theme is aptly entitled Libraries Transform. Long gone are the days where libraries served the sole purpose of providing books for borrow. Today, libraries in schools, public spaces, and various academic institutions of higher learning are evolving to provide unique access to subscription-based catalogues and journals, internet access, video rentals, and literacy and technological skill acquisition.

What has not changed, according to a recent 2015 Pew Research Center survey, is the critical academic and community role libraries should play in educating both children and adults. Studies from the Department of Education and the National Institute of Literacy conclude that 32 million adults in the U.S. (about 14 percent of the population) still cannot read – a static statistic from literacy rates 10 years ago.

And according to the Department of Justice, “the link between academic failure and delinquency, violence, and crime is welded to reading failure.” Moreover, we know rates of illiteracy are inextricably linked to rates of incarceration disproportionately affecting minority populations and communities of color or the socioeconomically disadvantaged.

So what does this all mean? What we can infer from study after study is that our communities of color and working class households are disproportionately affected in an adverse way when libraries curtail or shut down services altogether.

Today, I call on my fellow Texans to become more vocal advocates about the issue of literacy in America, to visit their local library and thank their local librarians for the important thread they weave in the fabric of our nation’s promise to give every child a fair shot.

U.S. Representative Eddie Bernice Johnson is the ranking member of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology and the highest-ranking Texan on the House Committee on Transportation & Infrastructure. She represents the 30th Congressional District of Texas.