Caroline Kennedy on Libraries and Family

January 27, 2013

“I’m descended from a long line of book worms and librarians. They would be very proud of me for being here with you.” Caroline Kennedy’s revelation at the beginning of her Auditorium Speaker Series talk at ALA Midwinter set the tone for the entire session. Her talk and Q&A with ALA President-elect Barbara Stripling was filled with stories that detailed how learning, books, and poetry shaped her famous family, interwoven with reminders of the important roles that libraries and librarians play as guardians and facilitators of information and ideas, role models to youth, and voices for communities.

Kennedy’s involvement with libraries and education runs deep. She worked to improve New York City public school libraries as vice chair of the New York City Fund for Public Schools and served on the board of New Visions for Public Schools and the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation. She delivered the keynote speech at the 2011 I Love My Librarian Award Ceremony and is honorary chair of National Library Week this year. Kennedy touched on work accomplished in these roles, as well as iterating her belief in the power of libraries to affect personal and civil life.

“Librarians are the most committed civil activists that I know,” she said.

Kennedy touched on the changing face of libraries as well. “Libraries are no longer the hushed places they used to be,” she said. “They’re places for the community. [They’re] adapting to help people realize their dreams by giving people access to what they need.”

She related how her interest in poetry (her latest anthology, Poems to Learn by Heart, will be released in March) can be traced back to her family, who loved to read and share poems. Her parents encouraged her and her brother to memorize and recite poems to each other and to the family, and her grandmother would challenge them to recite the entirety of “The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere.” They never could, but her uncle, Senator Ted Kennedy, could—a feat that he would always undertake in a loud booming voice when visiting her during book signings.

Kennedy also touched on her work with the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in preparation for the 50th anniversary of President Kennedy’s administration. Worried that her father’s administration will be become “ancient history” to today’s youth, she’s working to make it relevant again. A large component of that work involves digitizing the library’s collection, which includes recordings, film footage, papers, and photos, that detail her father’s life and work and making it available online. It’s a project that combines Kennedy’s dedication to both family and learning.