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In life, one of first steps to succeeding is reading

“March Is Reading Month” is celebrated by thousands of elementary schools across Ohio. March is the month when many schoolteachers redouble their efforts to inspire the joy of reading in our children. Janet and I have seen that love grow in our own children and grandchildren. One of our grandchildren’s favorite authors is Dr. Seuss, so it is only fitting that his birthday – March 2nd – is “Read Across America” day.

A book can bring much knowledge and satisfaction to the reader. This month, I would like to encourage my fellow Ohioans to discover the joys of reading, and help instill that same joy with their friends, family and children.

Libraries are one of the most important institutions for fostering a lifetime of reading and learning. We are blessed that Ohio is truly second to none in libraries and, for the ninth consecutive year, Ohio is first in the nation in libraries.

But don’t just take my word for it.

Thomas J. Hennen Jr., a library director in Wisconsin, conducts a survey each year of libraries nationwide and rates them according to 15 factors including: circulation, staffing, materials, reference service and funding levels.

In the nine years that Mr. Hennen has conducted his research, Ohio has ranked first each year. This year, more than of 30 of Ohio’s libraries placed in the top 10 nationally for their population category.

This is a significant achievement. We should not undervalue the role good public libraries play in educating our children. They provide children with free access to stories and other valuable learning materials. At a public library, schoolchildren can find out what truly captures their imagination, as well as study for school in a rewarding environment. The availability of stories and information encourages any child to become a lifelong learner.

Libraries work in partnership with schools and universities to strengthen the foundation of Ohio’s education system. They facilitate the exchange of information so students and teachers have resources from which to learn and teach and they keep up with advancements in technology — especially critical if mom and dad are a little behind in the technology department.

As the information age has moved to cyberspace, libraries have responded by providing Internet-accessible computers and databases that search and sort through thousands of research materials at the touch of a button.

When I was governor of Ohio, I recognized the importance of good libraries and advanced technology – both of which require adequate funding.

In addition, I was pleased to support the establishment of the Ohio Public Library Information Network (OPLIN) in 1996.

OPLIN connects all the libraries in the state, allowing students and teachers to access databases in other schools that would take days or weeks to get through the old system of interlibrary loans. I was honored the following year as the 1997 recipient of the Andrew Carnegie Award – an award given to a government official who supports the ideals of public libraries.

Thomas Jefferson stressed that a well-informed citizenry is essential for a republican government to function. Events like “March is Reading Month” and “Read Across America” are opportunities to nurture the habits of an informed citizenry in our children and I hope you will take advantage of these programs at your local libraries and schools.

Ohioans can be proud of our support for our libraries and their top national ranking. And we can be thankful for the many dedicated librarians who brighten our children’s future and help prepare them for the great challenges they face in the future.

George Voinovich is a member of the U.S. Senate and represents Ohio.