Public Papers

Message to the Congress Transmitting the Report of the White House Conference on Library and Information Services


To the Congress of the United States:

I am pleased to transmit to you the Summary Report of the 1991 White House Conference on Library and Information Services and my recommendations on its contents as mandated by the Congress in Public Law 100 - 382, section 4.

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, and television and news broadcasts have ended the reign of ignorance and helped create a whole new world of enterprise, competition and, with it, intellectual growth.

Library and information services are vital because they help ensure a free citizenry and a democratic society. It was appropriate that the 1991 Conference addressed three major themes of great concern to our own society: literacy, productivity, and democracy. These three issues are now more important than ever as we work to raise our Nation's educational level, to make the American work force preeminent in the world, and to serve as an example to the rest of the world regarding the benefits of a democratic society. We live in exciting times with our world changing daily. Not only are we on the verge of revolutions in educational practice and workplace improvements, but technology is helping to change the very way in which we learn and work. Library and information services are at the center of this change with new sophisticated technologies that not only improve the quality of information but actually make it more accessible to the people who need it. It was the realization that library and information services are in a period of rapid change that prompted the establishment of the 1991 White House Conference on Library and Information Services.

Participants at the White House Conference considered the themes of literacy, productivity, and democracy, and how library and information services can contribute significantly to the achievement of those goals. The 984 delegates to the Conference included librarians, information specialists, and community leaders. They represented all the States and territories and the Federal library community. Prior to the Conference, there had been innumerable pre-Conference forums involving more than 100,000 Americans. These meetings produced 2,500 initial proposals regarding library and information services. The Conference delegates deliberated on 95 consolidated proposals before making their final recommendations. I wish to commend the National Commission on Libraries and Information Science for its key role in making the Conference a success. The recommendations, thoughtfully considered by the delegates to the Conference, are intended to help frame national library and information service policies for the 1990s.

The Importance of Library and Information Services

Library and information services have always played a significant role in our society. From colonial times forward, our libraries have acquired, preserved, and disseminated information to Americans. Today libraries and information services are expanding their roles and, with the advent of new technology, changing the ways in which we use and share information. As we move toward the new century, we should acknowledge the contributions that libraries have made and will continue to make in the years ahead.

A particular strength of our libraries and information services is that they are locally controlled. Whether in the public or private sector, these services are best maintained at the local level where they can be most responsive to citizens and where they can adapt to new local needs. Likewise, the States have a long tradition of fostering the development and expansion of library services to all citizens. In combination, both local and State governments are the primary supporters of our Nation's libraries and information services. The Federal role in library and information services has been one of encouraging and leveraging State and local support to expand the availability of library services to all Americans.


The quest for the future begins with literacy. Literacy is a goal that we must make every effort to achieve. It has been estimated that 23 million adult Americans are functionally illiterate, lacking skills beyond the fourth-grade level, with another 35 million semiliterate, lacking skills beyond the eighth-grade level. The effects of illiteracy in this Nation are staggering as people find themselves shut out of opportunities and as our governments struggle to find ways to assist these disadvantaged individuals.

My Administration is committed to improving education for all Americans. With broad bipartisan support, we are moving rapidly to implement strategies to achieve our six National Education Goals. These Goals, developed cooperatively with the Nation's Governors, address critical education issues ranging from ensuring our children start school ready to learn and attaining a 90 percent high school graduation rate, to being first in the world in math and science, demonstrating competency in core subject areas, and ensuring safe, disciplined, and drug-free schools. Goal five states that by the year 2000, ``Every adult in America will be literate and will possess the skills necessary to compete in a global economy and exercise the rights and responsibilities of citizenship.'' As we pursue education reform across America, one of our emphases must be on a literate America. To that end, I have consistently worked for an increase in Federal efforts for literacy programs. Our national education strategy, AMERICA 2000, is designed to help achieve all of the goals, and libraries, serving as community centers, can therefore play a major role in helping communities and schools across the country reach the goals.

The Conference recommendations include several statements that also address the literacy issue. I would urge the Members of Congress to review these suggestions carefully and to consider them in any future deliberations regarding literacy and library and information services.


Today's workplace demands a new definition of the term productivity. Rather than a traditional perspective that measures the production of items, we must recognize that we now live in an Information Age. In today's Information Age, many of our workers are knowledge workers who create and use information in totally new environments and in totally new ways. What we must do is to ensure that these workers achieve maximum productivity in their efforts.

The White House Conference recommendations regarding productivity are varied and far-reaching. Of perhaps greatest significance is the support shown for a national network for information sharing. The recent passage of the High-Performance Computing Act of 1991 responds directly to this recommendation and is a major step in the direction of increased productivity for American workers. Other recommendations address copyright statutes and business information centers, both of which would have a positive impact upon the efforts of American business and employees.

My Administration is committed to the full employment and increased productivity of the American work force. We can, and we must, become the most skilled work force in the world if we are to remain preeminent in today's global economy. Throughout the Federal Government, efforts are being made to bring to Americans the kinds of resources that they need to improve their on-the-job effectiveness. For example, within the Department of Education, an information resource for teachers, parents, and communities is being developed. To be known as SMARTLine, this data base will contain the best of education research and practice. This resource will be available locally -- through schools and community libraries -- to educators and parents who want to improve classroom instruction methods and to raise the education levels of our children.


An informed populace is a great guarantee that our democratic way of life will continue and flourish. Recent events have shown us that people in other countries are struggling to emulate what we have known for the past two centuries. The free flow of information in countries all over the world and especially in Eastern Europe has played a strategic role in releasing people from the bondage of ignorance.

Library and information services provide an infrastructure by which we can obtain information and can contribute to our democratic way of life. In our country, there are more than 30,000 public, academic, and special libraries, and there are an estimated 74,000 school libraries and media centers. These library and information centers are the links between our citizens and the information that they need. These libraries provide the kind of ongoing education that each man, woman, and child will need in order to remain a fully productive and fully participating citizen.

The 1991 White House Conference on Library and Information Services has generated many worthwhile recommendations. Clearly these ideas illustrate not only the changing role of libraries, but also the revolutionary changes affecting our own society. As our culture changes, so must the institutions that serve it. The Conference Report makes it clear that library and information services are changing rapidly in response to an increasingly complex and global society. As we strive for a more literate citizenry, increased productivity, and stronger democracy, we must make certain that our libraries and information services will be there to assist us as we lead the revolution for education reform. As I stated in my speech at the White House Conference, ``Libraries and information services stand at the center of this revolution.''

George Bush

The White House,

March 6, 1992.