On Thursday, May 18, I had the honor and privilege to speak before the members of the Edward Livingston Historical Association. I was invited to share my biographical story with the group as well as to give an update on the library’s strategic course and recent achievements. Here are the few highlights of my two-hour conversation with the group, which was followed by a Q&A session.
The history of my immediate family began through tragic events of the 1940s when many ethnic groups that populated the Caucuses area of the Soviet Union were deported to the steppes of Central Asia. My grandparents were among the hundreds of thousands of people loaded onto cattle cars and uprooted from the places they had lived for hundreds of years.
Life was unbelievably difficult at first. My maternal grandmother was widowed almost immediately and left to fend for herself and her three daughters, one of which was still an infant child. My grandmother dug a pit home in which they lived for several years. My paternal grandparents also faced mighty struggles as they and their kin were uprooted and moved to Kazakhstan.
Despite immensely difficult conditions and struggles, they understood that education was the key to a better life. Both of my parents achieved professional success. My father was a professor, an Olympic referee, and coach, and my mother was a physician.
From a very early age, my parents instilled the importance of reading and learning within me. Libraries have always held a central point in my life. Our small local children’s library was one of my most favorite places to visit. The librarian would always meet me with the widest smile and seemed to know exactly when I’d come to visit.
I can still see it, a stack of new books sitting on her desk, waiting just for me. Later in life, libraries became a source of knowledge and motivation. Reading opened many doors to truly unique academic and professional opportunities. I know how amazingly powerful and transformative libraries can be from the first-hand experience.
The value of reading instilled in me by my parents became even more vital to me when faced with statistics provided by the ProLiteracy, a non-profit agency that advocates literacy initiatives. Their research shows that:
• 29 percent of Americans read at/below an 8th grade reading level (basic literacy) and 14 percent of Americans read below a 5th grade level (illiterate)
• 85 percent of juveniles in the criminal court system are functionally illiterate, and 75 percent of prison inmates were dropouts or have low literacy
• 43 percent of adults with low literacy live in poverty, and 72 percent of children from low literate families are at risk of being low literate themselves
• $225 billion+ is lost to the US economy due to workforce issues/crime/loss of tax revenues
In addition to these staggering statistics, 15 percent of Livingston Parish adults (over 14,500) admitted on the 2010 census that they functioned below basic literacy. You might be wondering what you can do to combat the literacy crisis that affects not only our nation but our parish as well. What can you, as a concerned citizen, do to stem this tide?
Continue your support of your community through supporting Livingston Parish Library and its strategic efforts to foster literacy, life-long education, and intellectual enrichment.
Since 1947, voters in this parish have supported the library and passed millages to construct, maintain, and operate public libraries. By your actions, you are demonstrating that you support your local library in our mission to provide all members of the community with resources and programs to fulfill their informational, educational, recreational, and cultural needs.
Thanks to your support, in 2018 the Livingston Parish Library branches have hosted an average of 5 programs a day, reaching 1,867 children, teens, and adults. These programs were in addition to the 43,561 people who used one of our public computers in 2018, as well as the 454,736 Library resources circulated that same year.
An estimate of the value of Library usage in 2018 (books, audiobooks, videos, magazines, database use, programs, and events) is $13,849,691!
During my conversation with the Association members, I mentioned that our library team is working tirelessly to meet the needs of Livingston Parish residents by providing services and resources that are better aligned with their needs. In just this past year, we’ve implemented resources to remove barriers to library access. The first strategic step in that direction was the elimination of fines on teen and youth accounts.
The Board has also approved the creation of LPL eCards that provide Livingston Parish teachers and students with immediate access to all of the library’s electronic resources. However, the library’s efforts do not stop there. We understand the importance of remaining proactive in our efforts. For this reason, we are in the beginning stages of introducing a comprehensive community needs assessment study to serve our community better.
Leading the Livingston Parish Library has been the most fulfilling professional reward and a tremendous source of pride as a librarian. The simple realization of the fact that the work of my exceptionally talented, dedicated colleagues makes a true difference in the lives of people in our community is the biggest accomplishment one could desire.
Our libraries are a force for good. They are a cornerstone of our community, a collective memory of Livingston Parish, and a bright road to a better future.
Giovanni Tairov is the director of the Livingston Parish Library system.