Sample Speech # 9

The Next Generation of Readers

by Joseph Branin

In this after-dinner speech delivered December 14, 2000, Joseph Branin, director of libraries for Ohio State University, addresses a group of key university officials and benefactors of library programs. Branin effectively meets the requirements of an after-dinner speech: to engage the audience's attention, to provide some insight into a topic that is appropriately linked to the occasion, and to do so in a relatively brief fashion.

            Good evening. Thank you, President Kirwan.

            This beautiful library in Orton Hall where we are having dinner tonight is our oldest operating library on campus. The first site of the University library was in University Hall…Now the Orton Hall Library serves as our Geology Library. Its size, proportions, beautiful woodwork, and careful preservation make it a true University treasure.

            I want to thank our hosts…for holding this dinner for us in this beautiful and historic geology library and museum…And I do want to recognize the development staff who are here this evening who work so hard and effectively to connect us with our wonderful friends and supporters.

            I would like to talk to you this evening for just a few minutes about a topic that is often taken for granted at a university—that is the topic of reading. Because it is such a fundamental skill, we don't often recognize its importance in higher education. But recently I was reading an announcement about the University's latest Selective Investment awards, and it made me think about this topic. The purpose of Selective Investment awards is to recognize and invest in our best academic programs at Ohio State…This year the selective investments were awarded to five academic programs, including the Department of English…James Phelan, the Chair of the English Department, made this statement about his program after winning a Selective Investment award: “English is one of the central disciplines in a liberal arts education. We train people to be good readers, writers, and critical thinkers, and we keep alive a significant part of our cultural heritage by making literature of the past relevant to the present.”

            There is much in that elegant statement of purpose on which I could comment, but I just want to draw your attention to the first part of it: “We train people to be good readers.” I hope we take that purpose very seriously in all of our roles as educators, parents, community leaders, and employers—for reading is the gateway to knowledge and the most basic, fundamental skill of a modern literate, scientific, and technological society.

            But we should never take reading for granted. Do you know that according to the National Institute of Literacy, more than 20 percent of the adult population in the United States read at or below a fifth grade level? The United Nations has declared literacy to be a basic human right, yet there are more than a billion adults worldwide who cannot read or write at all, and more than 40 million American adults who have difficulty with basic literacy. We must do all we can to assure that children grow up with plenty of books around them and that they learn to read at an early age and grow to appreciate and enjoy reading throughout their lives.

            One of the principles of our new academic plan is to view education holistically.

            The University must be and wants to be involved in the community, and we want to be part of K-12 education—and I think this is particularly important in the area of reading skills and reading appreciation. Patti Kirwan provides a good role model for us in this effort…

            Reading literacy opens the gateway to knowledge, but in today's information-rich world, that gateway often seems like a floodgate that we cannot shut. . . .

            Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, recently released a report on the enormous and rapidly growing size of the information universe. These Berkeley researchers estimate that there is now between one and two exabytes of information produced each year worldwide. An exabyte, by the way, is a billion gigabytes. I am not sure exactly what that means, but it's a lot of bytes of information!

            So in addition to basic literacy, educated readers must also be critical, discriminating readers and possess what we call information and computer literacy skills. What information is accurate and reliable, where can I find the kind of relevant and correct information in the universe of exabytes that I need to complete my assignment, my research paper, or to answer basic questions about health care, business, or consumer decisions?

            This more advanced form of information and computer literacy is a skill that librarians at Ohio State try to provide our students. We actually have one of the most advanced information-literacy training programs in the country. Through lectures, research assignments, one-on-one reference assistance, and now online tutorials and guides, we try to reach every undergraduate at the University.

            Finally, let me mention an aspect of reading that is very dear to my heart, and that is the place where we best facilitate and celebrate reading—our libraries. One of my favorite books about libraries is titled Reading Rooms. It is an anthology of what American writers, such as Edith Wharton, Sinclair Lewis, Stephen King, James Baldwin, and Annie Dillard have said in their stories and poetry about libraries and librarians. Contained in this anthology is a passage from an autobiography called Blooming: A Small-Town Girlhood that I would like to read to you. It's written by Susan Allen Toth, a Midwestern author, who was born in 1940 and grew up in Ames, Iowa. This is what Ms. Toth remembers about libraries:

            "Whenever I hear the words inner sanctum I think of the Ames Public Library. It was a massive stone temple, with imposing front steps that spread on either side into two flat ledges, overhung by evergreens. Waiting for my mother to pick me up, I could sit almost hidden on the cool stone blocks, surveying passing cars with a removed superiority. Safely perched on my pedestal, surrounded by my stack of new books, I always felt unusually serene, bolstered by the security of the library behind me and the anticipation of the books beside me. Even to the moment of leaving it, my visits to the library were high occasions."

            Of course, I want visits to all our libraries at Ohio State to be “high occasions” for our students, faculty, and friends. With your help and support, we can ensure that reading and reading rooms flourish at this great University. Thank you, and I wish you a wonderful holiday season and a very Happy New Year!

Discussion Questions

1.  Explain how Branin fulfills the first rule of a special occasion speech: to recognize the occasion and setting.

2.  How does Branin preview the speech?

3.  What is Branin's thesis?

4.  How does Branin incorporate evidence to support the need for literacy?