Celebrating the National Student Poets Program

White House PhotoLast week, I had the pleasure of attending a dinner to honor the National Student Poets. Each year, the National Student Poets Program recognizes five extraordinary high school students, who receive college scholarships and opportunities to present their work at writing and poetry events across the country–which includes events at libraries.

To qualify for the National Student Poets Program, one must demonstrate excellence in poetry, provide evidence that they received prior awards for their work, and successfully navigate a multi-level selection process. The program is sponsored and hosted by the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities, the Institute of Museum and Library Services, Scholastic Art & Writing Awards, and several other groups, with the dinner hosted at the fabulous, new Google Washington Office–altogether an interesting collaboration.

The students began the day at the White House, and they read their poetry in the Blue Room, hosted by the First Lady. Then they met with a group of White House speechwriters to talk about the creation of a different kind of “poetry.” At the dinner, I sat next to one of the incoming (2014) National Student Poets, Cameron Messinides, a 17-year old from Greenville, South Carolina. He, as well as the other honorees, exhibited impressive, almost intimidating ability and poise in their presentations and informal conversation.

The advent of the digital age does not, of course, negate important forms of intellectual endeavor such as poetry, but does raise questions about how these forms of traditional communication extend online. And for the American Library Association (ALA), there are further questions about how libraries may best participate in this extension. Then there is the question of how to convey such library possibilities to decision makers and influencers. Thus, under the rubric of our Policy Revolution! Initiative as well as a new Office for Information Technology Policy program, we are exploring the needs and opportunities of children and youth with respect to technology and libraries with this eye on engaging national decision makers and influencers.

Well, OK, the event was fun too. With all due deference to our Empress of E-rate (Marijke Visser, who is the associate director of the ALA Office for Information Technology Policy), one cannot spend all of one’s time on E-rate and such matters, though even so, admittedly one can see a plausible link between E-rate, libraries, and poetry. So even at this dinner, E-rate did lurk in the back of my mind… I guess there is no true escape from E-rate.

Score one for the Empress.

About Alan Inouye

Alan S. Inouye is the director of ALA's Office for Information Technology Policy (OITP). Previously, he was the coordinator of the President's Information Technology Advisory Committee in the Executive Office of the President and a study director at the National Academy of Sciences. Alan completed his Ph.D. at the University of California at Berkeley.

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