Accio Books

Thomas Jefferson Didn't Say That & Why It Matters

By Christine Richardson

This piece was originally posted here as part of the Harry Potter Alliance's Accio Books series, exploring issues related to literacy, education, and libraries. To find out more about Accio Books and how Words Alive is involved, visit thehpalliance.org/accio_books

The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) defines a library as “a building or room containing collections of books, periodicals, and sometimes films and recorded music for use or borrowing by the public or the members of an institution.” But to many of us, libraries are so much more!

Image of a child reading under a tree with the words “Read for Life”. Via  Words Alive

Image of a child reading under a tree with the words “Read for Life”. Via Words Alive

Libraries are places for exploration! They are where we encounter new ideas, find new authors, and discover new worlds. How many times have you read a book that expanded your worldview? How many times has a book you read had a huge impact on your feelings of self-worth, your career, or even your life? The Harry Potter Alliance (HPA) owes its existence to a book series, and has done so many wonderful things in the world under the name of the series’ famous character. One of the wonderful things the HPA does each year is a campaign called Accio Books. Accio Books is an HPA sponsored international book drive that to date has collected over 315,000 books, which have all been donated to communities in need around the globe. This year’s recipient is Words Alive, a literacy nonprofit in San Diego, CA. Words Alive was founded in 1999 and now serves more than 5,500 students and families each month through numerous reading programs. The idea behind Words Alive is that reading, and lifelong learning, is fundamental to being a productive member of your community.

Speaking of which, have a think about this familiar quote: “An educated citizenry is a vital requisite for our survival as a free people.” This quote is often attributed to Thomas Jefferson. However, there is no evidence he ever said it. Why is this important? The meaning of the quote is very powerful and is said to nicely summarize Jefferson’s views on education. But, he never actually said it. We know this because of historical records kept by libraries and archives. They provide us not only with a future to explore, but also a past to discover.

This story shows us how easily quotes or ideas can make it into popular culture even when their sources are misattributed. Thankfully, libraries (and the access to information contained within them) are here to help us fact-check and discover the truth. We need an educated public, and part of that means publicly accessible information. That is how we will gain knowledge. Libraries provide us with information that helps us become knowledgeable citizens.

“Fake News” spelled out in Scrabble Tiles.  Image via the American Library Association

“Fake News” spelled out in Scrabble Tiles. Image via the American Library Association

We are living in a time when access to the truth is being put to the test. Right now, we are deeply in need of libraries and the access to information they provide. Libraries enable us to become the educated citizens our democracies need to survive and, hopefully, to thrive. Without libraries providing a historical record, we would not have the tools necessary to know, for instance, that a quote attributed to a famous founding father of the United States was actually misattributed. It also allows us to fact check our elected officials to know whether they are telling us the truth, stretching the truth, or flat out lying to us.

This week, as part of National Library Legislative Day, thousands of librarians and wizard activists stood up for libraries by advocating to Congress for full funding for the Institute of Museum and Library Services (the source of nearly all federal funding for libraries) and full support for net neutrality. Their activism in D.C. and across the country was amazing — and it’s not over yet. Help libraries keep helping us: call Congress today and tell them about the importance and magic of libraries.

Because fake news can have real-world consequences. Image via  ilovelibraries.org

Because fake news can have real-world consequences. Image via ilovelibraries.org

At the end of Accio Books, the recipient site for the campaign (in this case, Words Alive) hosts an event called the Apparating Library where the books received throughout the campaign are distributed back out into the community and given to the kids, youth, and families who most need them. This library is well-named as it has appeared (or, apparated) to numerous places around the world since the start of Accio Books in 2009. Communities in Rwanda, New York City, Michigan, Missouri, the Netherlands, Uganda, and now California have benefited from the increased access to knowledge that this Apparating Library brings. Please join me in advocating for well-informed communities by supporting your local libraries, the Apparating Library, and thousands of young readers around the world through Accio Books!

Christine Richardson is a librarian by day and nerdfighter always. She volunteers with the HPA and Uplift.

Stories, Stress, & Schools: Why Summoning Books Can Help Students' Mental Health

By Anna Lyczmanenko

This piece was originally posted here as part of the Harry Potter Alliance's Accio Books series, exploring issues related to literacy, education, and libraries. To find out more about Accio Books and how Words Alive is involved, visit thehpalliance.org/accio_books

Today’s students have a lot to deal with, both in the classroom and out. Social anxiety, depression, abuse, bullying, eating disorders, and pressure to perform are issues that many young people, from elementary school through college, face every day. When things come to a head and students find themselves in crisis, many may feel that they do not have someone to confide in or don’t know who to turn to for help. This scenario is shockingly common: according to the Department of Health and Human Services, most children with a mental illness do not receive the treatment they need.

Tackling the issue of student mental health has proven to be a difficult task, even in states with funds and programs dedicated to helping children and young adults with mental health concerns. Fortunately, there are efforts to widen the conversation about mental illness and remove the stigma. As a result, discussions around youth mental health have started to enter the mainstream. This growing conversation is occurring on television, in state and national legislatures, but also at a level closer to home for kids – at school.

Young people spend a great deal of time at school, which means that schools have an opportunity to be a great resource for young people dealing with mental illness. The desire to help students has generated movements amongst teachers, school staff members, and students themselves to create programs, petitions, and resources around mental health. Many HPA chapters have been active in creating these campaigns: whether raising money for direct service organizations, hosting “de-stress” events on college campuses, or speaking out about their own experiences, wizard activists around the world are working with their schools to remove the stigma around mental illness and seeking help. This work could not be more vital. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, one in five teens between the ages of 13 to 18 is at risk of a severe mental disorder.

At the elementary level, states and teachers have gotten together to mitigate mental health issues for students as they develop. In Minnesota, students can receive mental health treatment in school, removing the barriers like transportation, insurance coverage, and lengthy wait times for appointments. As a result, more students are receiving the help they need and seeing jumps in their attendance and academic performance. Other states, like California and Washington, are also looking at what schools can do to help - and that’s where wizard activists come in.

It’s no secret that reading can improve your mental health by increasing empathy, reducing stress, and even improving sleep. By making sure that young people around the world have access to books, Accio Books helps provide a vital mental health resource. Books can be powerful therapy on their own, and even more helpful when they explicitly tackle mental health and mental illness. This year for Accio Books, we have partnered with Words Alive, which means that wizard activists will help 5,000 young people and their families have access to the power of story.

Through Accio Books, wizard activists are also helping to support some of their community’s mental health first responders: librarians. Because children and teens are unlikely to be receiving the treatment they need, it’s vital that youth-serving agencies like libraries have training to recognize and support young people living with mental illness. Library staff often provide more than book recommendations, serving as a resource for everything from finding substance abuse support programs to navigating the health system. Assuring that libraries have the funding they need to keep their doors open and their staff well-trained is essential. That’s why wizard activists contacted Congress 868 times last year to support funding libraries, and that’s why we’ll do it again on May 1st and 2nd for National Library Legislative Day.

Through Accio Books, teachers, afterschool providers, library staff, students and other wizard activists are working together to increase young people’s access to books - which means we’re providing more resources for young people in need of the therapeutic benefits of reading great stories. This work, along with awareness-raising, outreach, and collaboration of services is essential to helping and empowering students living with mental illness. So be sure to visit our Accio Books headquarters to donate books, take action for libraries, become a Prefect, or even donate to support the campaign. You never know whose life your favorite stories will change.

Anna Lyczmanenko is a part Hufflepuff/part Gryffindor with a love of peanut butter, and talking about healthcare. She is the Mental Health Campaigns Researcher for the Harry Potter Alliance.