Alexandria Library Interviews Dr. Pedro Noguera in Honor of Hispanic Heritage Month

Dr. Pedro Noguera

In paying tribute to Hispanic Heritage Month (September 15-October 15), we spoke with New York University Professor of Education, Dr. Pedro Noguera, who gave public libraries accolades at TC Williams' back-to-school event last month. As Executive Director of the Metropolitan Center for Urban Education, his research and immense expertise on finding educational strategies in metropolitan areas that are effective has earned him many speaking engagements (some viewable on YouTube). With experience under his belt that includes undergraduate and graduate degrees from Brown University, a doctorate in Sociology from UC Berkeley, faculty appointments at Harvard Graduate School, and a New York governor appointment to serve on the State University of New York Board of Trustees in 2008, we were delighted to pick his brain about the public library's role in education, as it allows free access to information for all.

Alexandria Library: How have you benefited from libraries as a child, student and now educator?

Dr. Pedro Noguera: As a child, I developed my love of reading in the public library under the guidance of Ms. McDonald. An elderly Panamanian woman, Ms. McDonald had an uncanny sense for the types of books I would like, and surprisingly, they were books I would probably never have read on my own. In the fourth grade she selected
A Wrinkle in Time, and though I never had been very interested in science fiction, I fell in love with the book. After that I trusted all of her recommendations. Once she told me "If you learn to read you will never be bored again." She was absolutely right.


AL: Why do you still encourage libraries in a Google and Wikipedia-reliant world, and in the culture of immediacy?

PN: Browsing among the stacks at a library is a magical experience. If one has the time and patience, you can find books that relate to something you are working on but weren't necessarily aware of before. I had this experience when doing my masters thesis at Brown University. I was studying the role of adult literacy in developing nations, I came across a book on the Cuban literacy campaign written by Richard Fagen. I hadn't even known that such a book existed or that Cuba had even had a literacy campaign in 1961. Serendipitous discoveries of this kind are only possible when one has time to explore. I may be old-fashioned, but I think this can be more easily experienced among real books.


AL: Recent studies show that minority babies are now the majority in the U.S. As we celebrate Hispanic heritage this month, how do you think libraries can improve on reaching out to the Latino communities, and other communities of color?

PNIn the past there were bookmobiles that went into poor neighborhoods and brought books to children. We should find ways to do this again. There are many children who come from homes without books and who would welcome the chance to read if they had a chance.


AL: What are some of the educational challenges that are facing urban communities that you believe libraries can provide more assistance in?

PNLibraries can serve as an important resource for reinforcing out of school learning, particularly during the summer. Book clubs with discussion groups could be established to get kids reading and talking about literature. Children with strong literacy skills do better in all subjects. This must be nurtured through reading.