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Mom Demetria Dalton, shows her library card to win a prize during Independence Leadership Academy's Making Memories with Mom. Dalton, then spent time in her daughters’ classrooms. Valerie Agnello, from the Independence Branch Library, attended the event to share information about this summer’s reading program at the library: A Universe of Stories.

Across Louisiana these past few weeks, public libraries have been welcoming youngsters with summer reading programs — many of them using the theme promoted by the State Library of Louisiana, “A Universe of Stories.”

That reference to outer space chimes nicely with this summer’s 50th anniversary of humanity’s first landing on the moon, and it underscores an important point.

America could not have thrived as a superpower, including its ventures beyond Earth, without a critical mass of people who could read. Basic language skills made scientific collaboration possible, creating the advances that allowed this nation to plant its flag on the lunar surface.

In a very real sense, the United States read its way to the moon, and we couldn’t have done it without libraries. In the half-century since Apollo 11, the world has become even more driven by technology, which makes literacy even more important.

In such a society, those who can’t read well are, in most cases, destined to be left behind. We know that all too well in Louisiana, where high rates of illiteracy are a huge factor in keeping the state near the bottom when it comes to economic competitiveness.

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To grow Louisiana’s community of readers, libraries will be more critical than ever. With the rise of the internet, many have openly wondered if we still need public libraries. But lots of reading materials are still not available online and probably won’t be for years. That means physical book collections will still be crucial.

Also, many people in Louisiana don’t have internet access at home and depend on public libraries to connect with online resources.

In a country increasingly touched by division, libraries can play a vital civic role, too, serving as places where those from many walks of life can connect with each other.

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Summer reading programs offer that kind of engagement, and we’re heartened that thousands of Louisiana children participate in these free events each year. Many Louisiana libraries have summer reading programs for teens and adults as well, a great way to affirm reading as a lifelong activity.

Registration for these programs is still open at many public libraries throughout Louisiana. We encourage residents of all ages to sign up.

Widening Louisiana’s circle of leaders can do it much good, but summer reading can be one of the season’s best pleasures, too.