The Center for the Book will be 25 years old in October 2002. This is the ninth in a series of articles that summarizes its activities during its first quarter century.
When the Center for the Book was established in 1977 to use the resources and prestige of the Library of Congress to promote books and reading, "literacy" was not quite yet a popular concept or phrase. In July 1980, the center sponsored its first major program that specifically mentioned the topic: a symposium on "Literacy in Historical Perspective" featuring papers about the development of literacy in several countries.
As literacy–defined as the ability to read–increasingly became a public concern, it also became a key topic for the Center for the Book. One of the center's major projects, a congressionally-authorized 1983-1984 study titled "Books in Our Future," helped define how literacy was viewed in American society in the mid-1980s. It also established the Center for the Book's interest in promoting literacy.
The definition and future challenge for the Center for the Book came in Librarian of Congress Daniel J. Boorstin's letter of transmittal and text for the 50-page "Books in Our Future" report to Congress in 1984.
In the letter of transmittal he explained: "Ours is a Culture of the Book. Our democracy is built on books and reading. This tradition is now threatened by the twin menaces of illiteracy and aliteracy. … There could be no more appropriate effort to fulfill the hopes of our nation's founders, nor any more appropriate celebration of the bicentennial of our Constitution, than to aim to abolish illiteracy in the United States by 1989." Boorstin's text made a significant distinction: "We must face and defeat the twin menaces of illiteracy and aliteracy–the inability to read and the lack of the will to read–if our citizens are to remain free and qualified to govern themselves."
Soon thereafter the center's National Advisory Board agreed that the Center for the Book–a small, catalytic organization dependent on private funds to support its program–would emphasize combating aliteracy, mostly through its own reading motivation campaigns and promotion projects. Its support of the fight against illiteracy (emphasizing the need to teach people to read) would take place primarily by publicizing and cooperating in projects developed and funded by other organizations in both the private and the public sectors.
The center's involvement with literacy continued in the mid-1980s as it became an associate member of the Coalition for Literacy (now the National Coalition for Literacy), which focused first on the problem of adult illiteracy and later on broader questions of literacy throughout society. Additional impetus came during the center's 1989 "Year of the Young Reader" campaign because of new partnerships with organizations such as the Association of Library Service to Children, Reading Is Fundamental Inc. and Head Start, each concerned with reading and literacy among young people and families.
Since 1998, the center's major literacy effort has been the Center for the Book/Viburnum Foundation Family Literacy Project, which provides for the planning and promotion of family literacy programs among rural public libraries and their community partners. The center administers the project and organizes and conducts two training workshops each year for new participants. Since 1998, thanks to the generosity of the Viburnum Foundation, more than 175 small public libraries have received $3,000 family literacy grants.
The center's literacy promotion projects and publications related to those projects are described on the center's Web site: www.loc.gov/cfbook.
Literacy Promotion Highlights
July 14-15, 1980. "Literacy in Historical Perspective," a conference hosted by the center in cooperation with the U.S. National Institute of Education, emphasizes how historical research about literacy can help contemporary policymakers.
1989. The "Year of the Young Reader" promotion campaign, aided by a presidential proclamation and the efforts of honorary chair first lady Barbara Bush, enlists several dozen literacy and reading promotion organizations as Center for the Book national reading promotion partners.
May 1992. An interagency agreement between the Center for the Book and the Head Start Bureau of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services launches the five-year Library-Head Start Partnership Project. Its goal is to demonstrate in communities across the country how libraries that serve young children can plan and work with Head Start grantees and classroom teachers, families, and caregivers in children's literacy and language development projects.
1994. The Association of Youth Museums joins the project, and it is renamed the Library-Museum-Head Start Partnership Project.
1996. With funding from several sources, the Center for the Book publishes "Even Anchors Need Lifelines: Public Libraries in Adult Literacy," a 144-page report by consultant Gail Spangenberg that it commissioned in 1995. The report, which urges the strengthening of adult literacy programs in public libraries, is supplemented by a 321-page data book.
Sept. 8, 2000. With support from its organizational partners in the newly-formed International Literacy Network, the center hosts a daylong public program at the Library of Congress that celebrates International Literacy Day. The audience includes preschoolers, the general public, and reading and literacy professionals.
Sept. 8, 2001. Sixty of the Center for the Book's reading and literacy promotion partners promote their projects to the public in a special pavilion at the first National Book Festival, hosted by first lady Laura Bush and sponsored by the Library of Congress.
Center for the Book/Viburnum Foundation Family Literacy Workshops, 1998-2002
Sept. 9-10, Jackson, Miss.
Sept. 16-17, Albuquerque, N.M.
Aug. 19-20, Austin, Texas
Aug. 26-27, Baton Rogue, La.
Aug. 24-25, Decatur, Ga.
Sept. 21-22, Oklahoma City, Okla.
Aug. 22-24, Montgomery, Ala.
Sept. 12-14, Albuquerque, N.M.
Aug. 14-16, Columbia, S.C.
Sept. 25-27, Scottsdale, Ariz.
Aug. 14-16, Little Rock, Ark.
Sept., Austin, Texas (date TBD)