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Dean's Update: Remembering a Former U.S. President

December 7, 2018

Honoring President George H. W. Bush this past week brought memories of the time I had the honor to meet him as he put the weight of his White House position behind supporting libraries. 

It was July 1991, and I was a delegate to the Second White House Conference on Libraries and Information Services. Elected citizens, volunteers and library and information professionals from around the country came to the convention center in Washington, DC for the event.

First Lady Barbara Bush addressed the conference on the first day, sharing her passion for encouraging children to read. 

a pair of socks with books and a teacup on them

President George H.W. Bush spoke to us as well, as did daughter-in-law Laura Bush, herself a librarian and future First Lady.

A major theme of the conference was information literacy, a cause that both first ladies championed throughout their lives. The President himself endorsed this issue with his remark that, “if the United States is to remain a global leader in the 21st century, we must keep pace with rapid advances in technology, as well as with increasing trade and commerce between nations. Our ability to stay a head depends, in large part, on our ability to stay informed…”

These themes remain societal challenges today.

The optics and value of the relationship between presidents and libraries was seen this week when President George H. W. Bush was interned next to his wife on the grounds of his presidential library located on the Texas A&M campus.  Other presidents before him—Herbert Hoover, Dwight Eisenhower, Harry Truman, Ronald Reagan and Gerald Ford—also chose to extend their presidential libraries as places to understand the history of their time in office, to become a sacred American site to honor the Presidency.

Today, there are 14 presidential libraries under the National Archives administration, and plans are well underway to build the Obama Presidential Library in Chicago.  

President George H. W. Bush was known for his sense of humor, including the quirky colorful socks he wore. When attending his wife’s funeral, he wore a pair of socks with books on them to honor former First Lady Barbara Bush’s life-long commitment to literacy.  

Aside from reflecting on his presidency and his influence on history, I honored our 41st president on December 5th by preparing this In Circulation update while wearing my own version of library socks.

The importance of information to a democratic and civil society and the importance of access and literacy among its citizens will remain a legacy of President George H. W. Bush and his family in my memory for years to come.

Danuta A. Nitecki, PhD
Dean of Libraries