After Trombone Shorty warmed up the crowd, ALA President Jim Neal welcomed First Lady Michelle Obama to the stage. She was as graceful, smart, and inspiring as you could imagine.
I was trying to take notes and enjoy the moment. Here are some of the highlights from her conversation with Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden. (Ms. Hayden is the 14th Librarian of Congress. She is the first female and the first African-American to hold the position.)
Books and Reading
Ms. Obama explained that reading has always been a part of her family. When she was little, she set up her stuffed animals and would read to them and show them the pictures. So, of course, she read to her girls when they were little. She claims to still know every word of Dr. Seuss by heart. Barack and Malia read the Harry Potter series together, and Michelle read “Life of Pi” with Sasha. They were also a “big Calvin and Hobbes” family! It is a family ritual to go to the bookstore for the holidays. Barack felt comfortable leaving the White House to golf…and go to the bookstore!
Michelle described her first trip to the library when she was 4 and felt like a “big girl” because her library card was her first ID. She explained that as she got older, the library became a place for research. When she referenced the Dewey Decimal system, this got a cheer from a few folks in the audience. Michelle laughed and said, “I love you all.”
Before going to college, she worked at a book bindery for her first real job. The repetitive work taught her great respect for these workers and for the sometimes thankless jobs. Every value she has in her, she learned from her mother and father. Her father had MS and would get up every day and go to work on crutches without complaining. He was “proud to have a job that let him invest in his children.” She hopes to be “that person” for her parents.
Family and Balance
This led Carla Hayden to give a shout out and wave to her own mom who was in the audience. Michelle discussed the importance of affordable childcare. Ms. Obama’s mom “kept the whole White House grounded.” It is important to sit at the dinner table together as a family and talk, encouraging kids to participate.
Michelle said that YOU CAN HAVE IT ALL…just not at the same time necessarily. “Life is long. There are trade-offs that you make.” When she stopped caring about what others thought of her prrofessionally, it gave her the freedom to ask for what she needed and wanted. You can (and should!) define the terms of your professional life.
She tries to maintain balance. “Kids don’t need that much…just to know they are loved unconditionally.” As a parent, you also have to put yourself first sometimes. This is the “oxygen mask metaphor.” You can’t save someone else if you are dying inside.
Some of my other favorite quotes:
“Home is what you make it. It can be broken and funny and odd in many ways.”
“There are no such things as ‘bad kids.’ They are products of their situations.”
“Kids watch what you do…not what you say.”
She always thinks about how one interaction could change a kid’s life forever. Think about how our interactions as librarians can change a child’s life…
Of course, there was talk of books! Michelle loves a “good story that takes her outside of herself.” One of her favorites is Zadie Smith. Ms. Hayden asked her preference for electronic books or traditional books, and she responded she likes to have a book in her hand. What is she currently reading? Her own book! She is immersed in the editing process. Her book, “Becoming” will be published in November, 2018 when it will simultaneously be released in 24 different languages. In describing her book, she said, “We are all just people with stories to tell. We are flawed and broken.” There is no miracle in our stories. “We need to know everyone’s stories so we don’t forget the humanity.” She hopes her book encourages conversation because if we share stories, we “can be more empathetic, forgiving, and more open.”
Michelle Obama is an inspiration, and this was the perfect start to ALA Annual Conference 2018!