Librarians Urged to Get Back to Basics

August 11, 2010

Librarians and libraries should join with parents and other family members in “going back to the basics,” Roland S. Martin told the audience during the August 8 closing session of the Black Caucus of the American Library Association’s seventh National Conference of African American Librarians in Birmingham, Alabama. “When I look at the breakdown of black life, I fundamentally believe that it is because we have gotten away from the basics.”

Martin, a CNN political analyst, senior analyst for the Tom Joyner Morning Show, and host of of the TV One cable network show Washington Watch with Roland S. Martin, said there are two essentials to black life—faith, the essence of who we are; and education, the essence of one’s career path. “There was a time when black folks could not read, could not go to school, and had a 2nd- or 3rd-grade education, but said to their children, ‘You are going to get an education, it’s not going to be a conversation, debate, or dialogue.’”

“I read 300 books a summer,” Martin said. “We [he and his four siblings] were required to go to the library every week during the summer and school year and check out the maximum number of books.”

“I don’t travel anywhere in the world without a book,” Martin said, urging that children should be asked constantly what book they are reading. “How can you sit here and fight to keep libraries open, while we are not demanding that folks in your own families be voracious readers?”

Although technologically connected with all the electronics and involved in social networking, Martin said books are still important. “Batteries can die. I have never had a book die on me; the spine may fall apart, but I can still hold it together.”

Saying that librarians serve a vital role as “connectors between a generation” and their role “goes beyond serving people behind a counter” to reaching out to the community, Martin suggested that libraries and librarians do more to encourage children to read in and out of the library.

Martin is also an author whose latest book is The First: President Barack Obama’s Road to the White House as Originally Reported by Roland S. Martin (Third World Press, 2010).

Irene Owens, dean of the School of Library and Information Science at North Carolina Central University in Durham, received the Demco/Black Caucus of the American Library Association Award for Excellence in Librarianship Award during the August 7 President’s Gala and Awards Ceremony in recognition of her “significant impact on the lives of many young professionals.” The school’s SLIS program, under her direction, recruited more than 100 new librarians into the program. Over the course of five years, Owens has balanced a graduation ratio that was 70% white and 30% people of color to a ratio of 51% white and 49% people of color. The award was presented by John Ison, Demco director of library relations.

Other award winners included: Rudolph Clay, Washington University, St. Louis, Library Advocacy Award; Julius Jefferson Jr., Library of Congress, Washington, D.C., Karen Lemmons, Detroit Public Schools, and Kelvin Watson, National Agricultural Library, Beltsville, Maryland, Appreciation Awards; Joyce Jelks, retired, Atlanta–Fulton County Libraries, Professional Achievement Award; Rose Timmons Dawson, Alexandria (Va.) Public Library, Distinguished Service to the Library Profession Award; and Cassandra Allen, National Library of Medicine, Bethesda, Distinguished Service Award.

More than 400 librarians attended the conference, which also included tours of the Birmingham Civil Rights District where the 16th Street Baptist Church, Kelly Ingram Park, and the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute is located.