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Laura Bush at IMU: 'Books move people and shape our journeys'

Still a champion of reading, education, former first lady speaks at O'Bannon Institute

By Christy Mullins
331-4266 | cmullins@heraldt.com
April 9, 2010

Laura Bush is a reader, she made clear to an audience of around 300 ticketholders Thursday at the Indiana Memorial Union.

Bush spent a half hour reflecting on her tenure as first lady, providing a peek into her memoir that is slated for release next month.

Wife of former President George W. Bush, the former public school teacher and librarian said that after moving into the White House, her key issue quickly became education — making sure every child in the country knew how to read.

“Books move people and shape our journeys,” the former first lady said at Thursday’s banquet. She delved into themes of “To Kill a Mockingbird” and told her audience that the first book she’ll read to her first grandchild will be “Goodnight, Moon.”

Bush gushed about her two pet projects: the National Book Festival now held annually by the Library of Congress on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., and the Texas Book Festival she helped start when her husband was governor. It’s now held in Austin every year at the state Capitol.

A table of public librarians who said they were inspired by Thursday’s event submitted a question to Bush on an index card: “How do we start a book festival in Indiana?”

“Marry the governor,” Bush quipped. The women, who each have spent up to 40 years in the library system, then got serious advice on ways to run fundraisers or gala dinners to raise money, including inviting local authors with new books and recruiting plenty of volunteers.

“People will come,” she said. An estimated 30,000 Texans attend that state’s book festival each year and another 120,000 come to the National Book Festival.

Answering another audience question, Bush said she thinks technology in libraries is “really, really good.” The amount of money school districts spend on textbooks is massive, she said, and often the books are outdated by the time they’re opened in the classroom.

“Technology has created an explosion of information,” Bush said, but she speculated it’s not the death of books.

Bush said she’s currently reading a fiction novel focusing on medical ethics in the United States and Ethiopia called “Cutting for Stone” by Abraham Verghese, and she just finished “So Long, See You Tomorrow,” a collection of short stories by former New Yorker editor William Maxwell — to answer another question from the audience.

It was by chance that Teresa Heidenreich, Barb Dirks and Dorothy Nicholson, all area librarians, were seated together at Thursday’s dinner. They brainstormed about a state book fair in Indiana, urged by Bush’s answer to their question.

“Book fairs are a more personal way to connect people with books,” said Heidenreich, director of Washington Carnegie Public Library and adjunct lecturer at Indiana University. “It becomes real to them when they can meet the authors and people who share their interests.”

Thursday’s event was hosted by Ivy Tech Community College’s O’Bannon Institute, which focuses each year on community service, service learning and civic engagement. Arianna Huffington, co-founder and editor-in-chief of the Huffington Post, will participate in a public “conversation” at the Bloomington campus today as part of the three-day, seventh annual event.


Laura Bush, wife of former U.S. President George W. Bush, speaks at the O’Bannon Institute dinner Thursday evening at the Indiana Memorial Union. Ivy Tech Community College sponsors the three-day event. David Snodgress | Herald-Times


Former Indiana first lady Judy O’Bannon is introduced by John Whikehart, chancellor of Ivy Tech’s Bloomington campus, at the O’Bannon Institute dinner Thursday evening. Ivy Tech Community College sponsors the three-day institute, which focuses on community service, service learning and civic engagement. David Snodgress | Herald-Times


Laura Bush, wife of former U.S. President George W. Bush, speaks at the O'Bannon Institute dinner Thursday evening in the Indiana Memorial Union. Ivy Tech Community College sponsors the three-day event. David Snodgress | Herald-Times


Laura Bush, wife of former U.S. President George W. Bush, talks with Judy O'Bannon as John Whikehart, chancellor of Ivy Tech Bloomington stands behind her. Bush was the featured speaker at the O'Bannon Institute dinner Thursday evening. David Snodgress | Herald-Times


Judy O'Bannon gives Laura Bush, wife of former U.S. President George W. Bush, a hug at the O'Bannon Institute dinner Thursday evening in the Indiana Memorial Union. David Snodgress | Herald-Times

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