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Libraries: Our story, our future

Author Anthony Chow enjoying Washington, D.C. during the 2013 National Library Legislative Day.
Author Anthony Chow enjoying Washington, D.C. with his daughter during the 2013 National Library Legislative Day.

The article below was written by library advocate Anthony Chow, Ph.D., who is an assistant professor of the Department of Library and Information Studies at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, and the co-chair of the North Carolina Library Association’s Legislative and Advocacy Committee

Knowledge is power. I have always believed that. As a professional educator and father of three, the gift of literacy is a gift for the future. My wife and I read to all three of our kids every day for years until one day our youngest, Emma, said she did not want to be read to anymore. She wanted and could do it now on her own. Emma and her brother and sister were empowered with the gift of reading–a door to endless possibilities, a pathway towards knowledge about whatever they wanted and needed. This is a wonderful feeling for any parent or educator. This is freedom and independence personified.

Do libraries make you happy? I sincerely hope you will join us.

Both school and public libraries have played a pivotal role in helping build the joy and love of reading in our children. For this, my wife and I will be forever grateful. I am a library advocate and wish the same feeling of joy and empowerment for all Americans. I want to give back what they have given to me.

I am also a professor at The University of North Carolina at Greensboro’s Library and Information Studies Department. My job is to prepare future librarians and a significant part of my teaching philosophy is to lead by example and be extremely active in service as part of my own pathway of life-long learning. This is how I became involved in North Carolina’s library advocacy efforts five years ago.

My passion for libraries and library advocacy derives from my personal and professional conviction that they are indeed an essential part of the American story–past, present, and future. As a member of the North Carolina delegation attending National Library Legislative Day (NLLD) for the past four years, I had the honor and privilege of meeting with our state’s legislators to tell them my story and let them know unequivocally that libraries are a fundamental part of our life and the lives of many North Carolinians and Americans across the country.

The author's 11 year-old daughter Emma with their Morkie Ellie. Emma is already an avid reader.
The author’s 11 year-old daughter Emma with their Morkie Ellie. Emma is already an avid reader.

As a grizzled veteran learning under accomplished mentor Carol Walters, retired director of the Sandhills Regional Library System, and Brandy Hamilton, Regional Library Manager of the East Regional Library in Wake County, I was asked to help lead our 2014 delegation.

As we planned for this year’s NLLD we had two primary goals: 1) Allow our youth a voice to speak directly to legislators about how important libraries are to them personally, and 2) Find unique ways to make a splash and have people pay attention to us and our message of strong libraries for everyone.

The North Carolina Library Association (NCLA) created the NCLA student ambassador program and this year we are bringing 20 K-12 students to personally meet with their legislators and tell them first-hand how important libraries are to them. The creativity, energy, and diversity of their winning entries were refreshing and breathtaking in their depth and breadth. The youth are our future and their support of libraries could not be more authentically stated.

Coinciding with our focus on youth was the emergence of Pharrell William’s academy award nominated song “Happy” and the emergence of “Happy Dances” across the world on YouTube. We decided that doing a “Happy Dance” as part of our advocacy efforts made perfect sense and dancing was the perfect, positive, and fun way of expressing our support for libraries.

Like any large event an idea must be supported by passionate, talented, and brave people willing to dedicate their time, expertise, and pride on the line by doing something different. One of our new faculty members, Dr. Rebecca Morris, was a majorette at Pennsylvania State University and it was her brilliant idea to choose the song “Happy” as our flash mob dance and her willingness to take the lead on the choreography and instructional video that allowed the idea to become a reality. Our idea was quickly supported by North Carolina’s State Librarian Cal Shepard and our movement was born and off and running.

Our initial NCLA video also prompted several schools in North Carolina, West Wilkes Middle School and Smithfield-Selma High School, to film their own videos as well the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Public Library System.

In reserving the location for the flash mob Happy Dance, I was told by the U.S. Capitol Police that just dancing was not a clear enough expression of our First Amendment rights. So, in collaboration with the American Library Association (ALA), our dance turned into a full blown rally, which will take place from 2:30-4:00 p.m. right in front of the U.S. Capitol on Site 10 (across from the Library of Congress at the intersection of Independence and First Street). The flash mob will start promptly at 3:00 p.m. led by Dr. Morris, myself, and the majority of the North Carolina delegation including our State Librarian and many of our Student Ambassadors.

This is not really my story but our story and our future. Library advocacy is one clear-cut way for me to give back in some small way what they have given to me, my family, North Carolina, and our nation. Knowledge is power. Literacy is a gift that keeps on giving. Libraries also do so much more for other people–youth programming, access to technology, work force development, a place for the community to meet, and books–lots of books–in all different formats.

When I asked our State Librarian what was the overarching message she wanted to convey this year, she told me in no uncertain terms that this year is a celebration as North Carolina libraries are booming and we need the continuing support of our legislators to help us keep growing and providing vital services to our communities. Libraries make me so happy that I will dance for libraries. Do libraries make you happy? I sincerely hope you will join us.

The North Carolina Student Ambassadors

More Happy Dancing!

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Jazzy Wright

Jazzy Wright was a press officer of the American Library Association's Washington Office.

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