Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Speaks Out for Libraries

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September is Library Card Sign-up Month–a time when the American Library Association and libraries across the country remind parents that a library card is the most important school supply of all.

Libraries play an important role in the education and development of children. Studies show that children who are read to in the home and who use the library perform better in school and are more likely to continue to use the library as a source of lifetime learning.

Library cards are generally free to those living in the library's service area. In most cases, borrowing privileges are granted on the spot. Some libraries may require some form of identification, proof of residency or the signature of a guardian.

This year, NBA legend and author Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is this year's honorary Library Card Sign-up Month chair. “The library has always been my own personal time machine. I can walk through the doors and land in any place, any time period in history. I didn’t have to wonder what their worlds were like; I could experience it first hand,” Jabbar has said.

The American Library Association interviewed Jabbar about the role of libraries in his life and how they can benefit others.

What are you reading now?
The Raymond Chandler Omnibus

What does the library mean to you? How has the library helped you?
The library has been my access to worlds that I knew nothing about and it has helped me learn about the enormous diversity of our planet.

Why do you think that libraries/librarians are important to a community and/or an individual?
On the practical level, libraries share our common knowledge, which makes us smarter as individuals, and therefore better to contribute to our community. But on a spiritual level, it fuels our curiosity about the world, opening intellectual doors that help us appreciate and enjoy our lives more. On a world community level, libraries teach us about other cultures, making us less insular and afraid of what's different, and more compassionate toward others. The very fact that we think public libraries are a priority tells us something about the values of our community, defining us as people who love knowledge and art over ignorance and expediency.

From what library did you get your first library card?
Inwood Library in Manhattan.

Do you have any favorite library memories?
I was really mystified at how to use the card catalogue to find books. My first attempts were rather comical because I couldn’t figure out where the different sections were.

Where is your favorite place to read?
I like to be in nature away from traffic when I read.

You know how important the library has been in your life. What advice would you give young people about making the library part of their lives?
The library can feel like your own personal room, a place where you can hide out with your thoughts, test your ideas, explore other worlds and other times. In a way, it's a testing ground of who you are and who you want to become, because every time you walk out of those doors, you can be smarter than you were going in. My advice? Use it to transform yourself into the person you know you can be.

Visit Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's web site and his blog. See ALA's Library Card Sign-Up Day page for more information about the observance and about the importance of having a library card.