Public Papers

Remarks at the White House Conference on Library and Information Services


Thank you all very much for that welcome, and may I thank our marvelous band over there who brought us the music. What a job they always do. And may I, at the outset of these comments, thank those who have served and worked so hard to make this successful event a reality -- Charles Reid, the Chairman of the White House Conference -- [applause]. I'm glad his family's out there. [Laughter] Richard Akeroyd, the Cochairman; and Jean Curtis, Joseph Fitzsimmons, and all the rest of you out there who have participated in this very active and, I am told, successful conference. And welcome to all the State delegates out there.

First, let me say I am delighted to be here. I just checked in with the boss of the East Wing of the White House -- that is Barbara Pierce Bush -- [laughter] -- and she was just so pleased with the response, and she is so intimately involved in the work of all of you, but of many of you specifically in this room. And I just wanted to say that I appreciate very much your kindness and courtesy to her.

Since Presidents seem to get their own libraries -- [laughter] -- goes with the territory -- it's nice not to worry that one of you will try to collect my overdue fines. [Laughter]

I'm proud of our country's libraries. And you know, a member of my family wrote a book that's available in most of them. Ironically, Millie is not allowed to get a library card. [Laughter] And there's a great injustice and discrimination out there. [Laughter] Incidentally, that book -- it just shows you the power of books. That book, which was written to benefit Barbara's educational foundation -- maybe she mentioned it this morning, I don't know -- but it is raised for that educational cause over ,100,000. It shows you the power of books and the power of what can happen. And I know you all understand what I mean by that.

You know, Franklin Delano Roosevelt once gave his son James some advice that I've always tried to follow; sometimes I fail. To give a good speech, he said, you must ``be sincere, you must be brief, and be seated.'' [Laughter] Well, I promise to do all three, not because I'm not enthralled with the work of the conference but because tomorrow Barbara and I leave for Maine, where I will be receiving the Japanese Prime Minister -- [applause] -- Kennebunkport contingent over here -- [laughter] -- and receive the Japanese Prime Minister and then go on -- we both head abroad for the G - 7 meeting and then on to Greece and Turkey. So, you've caught us at the beginning or at the end of a busy week, and the beginning of another one.

But I am glad to be here with you today, because this magnificent event builds upon years of hard work. And let's face it: the world has changed dramatically since the last White House Conference on Library and Information Services. The thirst for freedom has swept aside the acceptance of tyranny. New and amazing technologies have made ideas accessible to everyone. Books, faxes, computer disks, television broadcasts have simply shattered the reign of ignorance and created a whole new world of enterprise, competition, and with it, intellectual growth.

So, you have come together from across this land to honor a common, exciting dream, the dream of making this the greatest nation that it can possibly be.

Your poster captures beautifully the essence of this challenge. The background picture of the world emphasizes the fact that we now live in a world united by information highways and joined in productive competition. The three photographs superimposed over that globe represent your three goals: literacy, productivity, and democracy. An open book, surrounded by other books, reminds us that the quest for the future begins with literacy. And again, with great pride, Barbara has joined many of you, and she has devoted a great deal of time to this fundamental and important cause because, you see, she knows and you all know better than most Americans that to open a book is to open the doors of opportunity. Illiteracy bars those doors, and it wastes our most precious resource, our minds.

Second on your poster is a photo of a computer keyboard. Now, I can talk about computers now. [Laughter] Marginally qualified to talk about computers now. [Laughter] But seriously, part of our education America 2000 strategy is that nobody is too old to learn, and I think it's a very important concept. So, a couple of months ago I decided to keep up with our grandchildren, not just in Nintendo, but I mean in trying to learn how to run one of these things. So, I started taking lessons. And it's amazing, youngsters understand the technology upon which our future rests, and we've got to rush to catch up with them.

Technology can make us more productive as a society, and information technology arms us with unprecedented power. Our kids will need high-tech skills to compete in the global marketplace of the 21st century. And we already know they have the character: we've seen them create a computer industry out of virtually nothing. And in the Gulf, we've seen them turn these sophisticated weapons into not what some would want us have believe are totally tools of destruction, in this instance, tools of liberation. And if we want to let our national spirit soar, we must cultivate ideas and knowledge. Perhaps no one will play a bigger role in setting the American spirit aloft than the very people in this room.

You will help us explore and conquer a new electronic frontier. Already, these fiber optic cables carry billions of pieces of information in a wire as thin as a strand of hair. Satellite systems beam information around the world. Computers combine music and video and text for interactive teaching systems, opening up whole new horizons for our fantastic teachers all across this country. And as I look at this, and I expect as you look at it, we recognize that this is just a beginning.

The administration's high performance computing and communications initiative proposes developing a national information network. Now, this network would offer high-speed computing capabilities to research and educational institutions. And it also would give experts the experience necessary to develop a broader, privately-operated national information network. Such an infrastructure would allow all Americans to share quality information and entertainment when and where they want, and at a reasonable cost.

This amazing beginning equips us to take on the challenge of democracy, symbolized again in your poster by our Constitution. Thomas Jefferson once wrote, ``A democratic society depends upon an informed and educated citizenry.'' Jefferson knew that education is not a trivia game, a contest to acquire little scraps of data. A sound education informs our passion and protects our values and instills respect for the truth. Information is democracy's greatest and surest weapon and our world's greatest and surest hope.

I expect -- well, put it this way -- I know that you don't often get credit as revolutionaries. Too often, people think of the library and information science professionals as people who go around saying, ``Shhhhhh!'' -- do that for a living. But in fact -- and this is the way we look at it in the Bush family, and I say family advisedly -- Barbara is my anchor to windward in all of this -- you preserve democracy's greatest resource, the ideas that have helped reshape an entire world.

Earlier this year -- and I hope all are familiar with it -- we introduced a new education strategy. America 2000 we call it. America 2000 isn't another slogan, wrap-around some proposed legislation. America 2000 calls for a revolution in American education. It challenges all Americans to raise expectations, to pledge genuine accountability, and above all, to create a new generation of American schools. And when we say ``new generation,'' we're not just talking about putting a coating of paint on an old way of educating; we're talking about really a revolution in American schools. It sets out to transform a nation at risk into a nation of students. And it urges everyone to make our communities places where learning will happen.

Libraries and information services stand at the center of this revolution. And today, our more than 15,000 public libraries serve nearly 70 percent of our population, they loan 1.3 billion items each year, and they use less than 1 percent of our tax dollars. I think you'll agree, that is quite a bargain. Our libraries serve as the schoolrooms for lifetime learning and the launching pads for our future.

All of you involved with this conference have made an invaluable contribution to the progress of American life. And so, I look forward to receiving your policy recommendations, and I am committed to working with you to improve our libraries and information networks and to carry America 2000 forward.

J. Robert Oppenheimer said it beautifully: ``The unrestricted access to knowledge may make a vast, complex, ever more specialized and expert technological world -- nevertheless a world of human community.''

So together, I think we will ensure an America of the greatest technological and human success. The potential is limitless. And this is an exciting time to be alive, and I can tell you, I view it as a fantastically exciting time in our history to have the honor of being President of the United States.

So, thank you all very much for your part in shaping the future. I don't think you can be a President and live in that magnificent house down the road there without thinking about the future. And to do that, we have to count our blessings for the past. We have to count our blessings for what we call a Thousand Points of Light as well, and that is men and women -- a volunteer commitment, getting out there and helping others and setting standards that the rest of the world admires and respects. And that is where each and every one of you come in.

Thank you, and may God bless the United States of America. Thank you very much.

Note: The President spoke at 1:50 p.m. in Hall A of the Washington Convention Center. In his remarks, he referred to Jean Curtis, executive director of the White House Conference on Library and Information Services; Richard Akeroyd, vice chairman of the White House Advisory Committee on the White House Conference on Library and Information Services; and Prime Minister Toshiki Kaifu of Japan.