By JOHN Y. COLE
"One Book" community reading promotion projects, which connect people to literature through reading and discussion, have exploded in popularity in recent years. Usually organized by libraries, they bring members of a community together to read and discuss the same literary work. Discussions usually take place in small groups and sometimes authors participate.
The "One Book" movement began in 1998 when Nancy Pearl, executive director of the Washington Center for the Book in the Seattle Public Library, initiated "If All Seattle Read the Same Book." With funding from the Lila Wallace Reader's Digest Fund and several local sponsors, she invited members of the public to read the novel "The Sweet Hereafter" by Russell Banks, and brought the author to Seattle for three days in December to discuss his book in a series of free public programs.
"One Book" projects are listed on the Center for the Book's Web site (www.loc.gov/cfbook/) both by state/city and author/booktitle. The number of projects has grown rapidly, from 63 in 30 states in June 2002 to more than 350 in all 50 states in December 2005. The online listing is probably the most comprehensive of its kind. New or updated information about community "One Book" initiatives is submitted to the Center for the Book at email@example.com and is posted on the Web site bimonthly.
In recent years, the "One Book" concept has been supported by a number of organizations. In 2003 the American Library Association (ALA), through its Public Programs Office, began providing librarians, library administrators and library partner organizations with guidance and information for the successful planning and execution of "One Book" initiatives. At the January 2004 ALA Midwinter meeting in San Diego, ALA hosted a "One Book, One Community" workshop, the first-ever national training opportunity for "One Book" programmers. The workshop was attended by librarians representing 54 communities in 23 states.
For communities unable to attend the workshop, ALA produced a "One Book, One Community Resource Disc," a nuts-and-bolts how-to digital resource for planning and marketing "One Book" initiatives. A "Planning Your Community-Wide Read" guide is also online. Librarians across the country use ALA's electronic discussion list to brainstorm ideas and to gather information and advice on other community-wide reading programs. For further information on how to order the "One Book" CD or to access the planning guide online, consult www.ala.org/publicprograms/ and scroll down to the Resources section.
In 2005 the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) undertook "The Big Read," an initiative designed to revitalize the role of literature in American popular culture. Aimed at addressing critical issues identified in "Reading at Risk," the NEA's 2004 report documenting the decline of literary reading in America, "The Big Read" encourages literary reading by asking communities to come together to read and discuss one of four classic novels: "Fahrenheit 451" by Ray Bradbury; "The Great Gatsby," by F. Scott Fitzgerald; "Their Eyes Were Watching God," by Zora Neale Hurston; or "To Kill a Mockingbird," by Harper Lee.
In December 2005 the NEA, in partnership with Arts Midwest, a regional arts organization based in Minneapolis, announced 10 pilot "Big Read" projects.
The participants are: the Arkansas Center for the Book, Little Rock, Ark., "The Great Gatsby"; Fishtrap Inc., Enterprise, Ore., "Fahrenheit 451"; Florida Center for the Literacy Arts/Florida Center for the Book, Miami, Fla., "Fahrenheit 451"; Fresno County Library, Fresno, Calif., "To Kill a Mockingbird"; Huntsville-Madison County Public Library, Huntsville, Ala., "The Great Gatsby"; Just Buffalo Literary Center, Buffalo, N.Y., "Fahrenheit 451"; The Loft Literary Center, Minneapolis, Minn., "Their Eyes Were Watching God"; Log Cabin Literary Center, Inc., Boise, Idaho, "Fahrenheit 451"; South Dakota Center for the Book, Brookings/Sioux Falls, S.D., "To Kill a Mockingbird"; and Topeka/Shawnee County Public Library, Topeka, Kan., "Their Eyes Were Watching God."
In addition to grants ranging from $15,000 to $40,000 to promote and carry out community-based programs in the spring of 2006, the NEA, in cooperation with Arts Midwest, is providing participating communities with free program materials including an organizer's guide, reader's guides for each of the four novels, a CD-ROM featuring distinguished actors and writers and a program Web site.
At the end of the pilot phase, the NEA will evaluable each program with a goal of inviting 100 U.S. cities to participate in 2007. Contact: Paulette Beete, 202-682-5601, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Examples of "One Book" Projects Across the Country
"Montgomery Reads," Montgomery (Ala.) City-County Public Library, "Out of the Night That Covers Me," by Pat Cunningham Devoto.
"One Book, One Bakersfield," Kern County Library System, Bakersfield, Calif., "Fahrenheit 451," by Ray Bradbury.
"Sycamore: One Community Reading Together," Sycamore (Ill.), Public Library, "The Solitaire Mystery" by Jostein Gaarder
"All Iowa Reads," Iowa Center for the Book, State Library of Iowa, "Gilead," by Marilynne Robinson
"One Book, One County, Read Along the River," Grand Rapids (Mich.) Public Library, "Plainsong," by Kent Haruf.
"One Book, One Community," Park City (Utah) Library, "The Namesake," by Jhumpa Lahiri
John Y. Cole is director of the Center for the Book in the Library of Congress.