On Wednesday May 28th 2014, beloved American author and poet, Maya Angelou, passed away at the age of 86. While best known for her many literary achievements, Maya Angelou was also a powerful library advocate.
Maya Angelou was recently scheduled to appear and speak at Fayetteville Public Library in Arkansas. Having to cancel the event due to health issues, Dr. Angelou wrote a personal apology to the library patrons and people of Fayettville. In her letter, Dr. Angelou quoted her grandmother, “when you learn, teach and when you get, give.” This statement speaks to the core purpose of a library. Libraries are established to provide knowledge and information to those who are seeking it…and sometimes those who are not! The purpose is to share what the library has acquired with the community rather than holding onto it for a select few. Dr. Angelou knew first hand the importance and significant effects a library could have on an individual and the impact those individuals could in turn have on the larger community. She was one of them!
In Dr. Angelou’s interview for the New York Public Library in 2010, she explained how her love for libraries all began. After a horrific event in Dr. Angelou’s childhood, she was so traumatized, she did not speak. For years she did not utter a word. A woman from the neighborhood where she grew up took her to a school library. She told the young Maya Angelou to read every book in that library. So she did! The reading provided a calm for the then young Maya Angelou. It seemed like a natural progression and when writing soon followed, thankfully it continued! One of the world’s most influential authors found her calm and inspiration in a small school library.
Her affinity for libraries kept Dr. Angelou advocating for and dedicating her time to different organizations and agencies throughout her literary career. Dr. Angelou appeared at numerous library events and conferences including, 1986 ACRL Nation Conference in Baltimore, 1991 American Library Association (ALA) Annual Conference in Atlanta as the Public Library Association (PLA) President’s program speaking and the 1999 American Association of School Librarians (AASL) National Conference in Birmingham. In the early 2000’s, Oakland Mayor, Jerry Brown, even proposed her as the Director of the Oakland Public Library System. A branch of the Stockton – San Joaquin County Public Library named The Maya Angelou Library opened its doors in 1996 after an inaugural speech by Dr. Angelou providing computer stations and reference services to the community.
Maya Angelou’s legacy will of course live on in her writings and published works but her spirit will also remain in the quiet, calm physical spaces of the library and through the sharing of information and knowledge.
Sources and further readings:
Read more of Maya Angelou’s quotes about libraries.
Read the entire story by Angela Montefinise of the New York Public Library.
Visit The Maya Angelou Library online.
Contributed by: Kimberly Flood, Library Assistant at Touro College School of Health Sciences in Bay Shore.