By Andrea O. Jackson
Record Special Writer
“Without the library to inspire children to read, think and imagine, they cannot dream, and without dreams, they will end up rotting and then die,” says Gloria Naylor, who attributes much of her success to libraries.
“I grew up in libraries,” Naylor told 250 people in the Michigan Union Ballroom last Monday. “There I had political and emotional access to the books. In the library, I learned to love, consume and digest the word, and became a writer.”
Naylor, the author of The Women of Brewster Place and Mama Day, discussed the importance of libraries during the Martin Luther King Day celebration. Her lecture, “Making A Difference: Libraries as Society’s Equalizers,” was sponsored by the School of Information and Library Studies and the University Library.
Naylor noted that although the U-M Library is ranked among the top five university libraries nationwide, it is possible for students to go through their first three years here without setting foot in a library. “Most come in when it is time to research their senior thesis,” she said.
Naylor recounted how books were revered in her home when she was growing up in the South. When she was young, her mother took a second job so that she could subscribe to a book club, because libraries were not legally available to her.
Today, libraries remain an enigma to many African Americans because their parents often are not able to introduce them to the wonders between the pages. “Thus they do not realize that the library is a vehicle for them to explore and learn about new worlds and cultures,” Naylor said.
Naylor noted that working parents often have to spend so much time supporting their children that they do not have time to read to them, adding that “in the age of information, television, videos and audio books are used to entertain, so the imagination is becoming a thing of the past.”
As a result of this technology, she added, we now have an illiterate generation. “Nationally renowned newspapers like the New York Times lowered their literacy standard from a first-year college to a ninth-grade reading level. USA Today cultivates this ignorance with flashy, colorful pictures and condensed, one-column stories,” she added.
According to Naylor, the American condition of illiteracy is compounded in African Americans. Now that they have the political right to claim books, many African Americans choose to reject them because they see the library as “the white man’s building.”
“Parents who were not introduced to the library and the world of reading when they were young cannot introduce their own children to an experience they do not know. Thus, the negative stereotype of libraries is perpetuated and another generation of children remains deprived of the knowledge they need to create and question,” Naylor said.