Walter E. Washington Convention Center
Backstory and Context
Laura Lane Bush (née Welch) was born on November 4, 1946 in Midland, Texas to real estate developer Harold and Jenna Welch. In her own words, Laura spent most of her life surrounded by books, stating that she and her mother were regulars at the local library in the Midland County Courthouse. She attributes the time her mother spent reading books to her like the Little House series by Laura Ingalls Wilder with her interest in books, her success in school and her appreciation for the value of a good education.
In 1968, Laura received her Bachelor of Science in Education from Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas and worked in education as an elementary school teacher in both Dallas and Houston. In 1973, Laura received her master’s degree in Library Science from the University of Texas at Austin and worked at the Houston Public Library before making the shift to school librarianship in Austin, Texas. Laura continued working as a librarian until her marriage to George W. Bush in 1977. Later in her life, Laura’s training as a librarian was helpful in her work as First Lady because reading to children helped her develop her storytelling ability, something she found helpful when giving speeches.
Laura’s background as an educator and librarian was the spark for her lifelong advocacy of education and literacy, which she began as First Lady of Texas upon George being elected Governor of Texas in 1994. Laura became an active member of the Texas Library Association and helped work on several projects like establishing the Texas Book Festival in 1996, an annual event that helps raise money for libraries around Texas, and the Family Literacy Initiative for Texas. Additionally, Bush assisted in the inauguration of the San Antonio Public Library in 1995 and participated in a public service announcement for the Texas Library Association in 1999.
During Laura’s tenure as First Lady of the United States from 2001 to 2009, she nationalized versions of the initiatives that she had worked on as First Lady of Texas. While this was a continuation of her previous work, her advocacy was also symbolic in that she was following in the footsteps of her mother-in-law, Barbara Bush, who also advocated for childhood literacy. Laura started many initiatives and hosted several events focusing on libraries, librarianship, education, and literacy during her time in the White House, beginning with the launch of the “Ready to Read, Ready to Learn” educational initiative targeted toward early childhood literacy in February of 2001.
In the first two years of her tenure, she announced the creation of initiatives like the Laura Bush Foundation for America’s Libraries that offers grants for school libraries and the “21st Century Librarian Program” aimed at recruiting new library and information professionals. One of Laura’s enduring legacies is co-founding the National Book Festival in 2001. The event, which was inspired by the Texas Book Festival, was co-founded by Librarian of Congress James Billington. It is sponsored by the Library of Congress and draws tens of thousands of readers each year. The National Book Festival was moved from the National Mall to the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in 2014.
Since she left the White House, Laura has continued much of the advocacy that she began as First Lady through the Laura Bush Foundation for America’s Libraries which continues to provide grants for school libraries. The foundation continued its support of the Gulf Coast School Library Recovery Initiative, which was started to help rebuild school libraries which had been destroyed by Hurricane Katrina, through 2012. The former First Lady played a role in the establishment of the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum, which was completed in April of 2013.
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Kniffel, Leonard. First Lady Laura Bush Reveals Post-White House Agenda. American Libraries, vol. 39, no. 9, p18-19. Published May 2008. Library Literature & Information Science Full Text (H.W. Wilson).
Raymond, Matt. Former First Lady recalls early Book Festivals, 9/11. Library of Congress Information Bulletin, vol. 69, no. 11, p242-243. Published November 2010. Library Literature & Information Science Full Text (H.W. Wilson).
Walker, Julie. The Calm AFTER the Storm. Knowledge Quest, vol. 40, no. 5, p70-75. Published May/June 2012. Library Literature & Information Science Full Text (H.W. Wilson).