By GAIL FINEBERG
"Books Open Doors," a new national literacy campaign launched on April 4, links images from the popular Disney and Walden Media film version of the C.S. Lewis children's classic "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" to the Library's Web site and the joys of reading.
The campaign, which encourages children and their families to expand their horizons by reading and imagining, thinking and learning, coincided with Literacy Awareness Week, April 3- 7.
The Library, the Advertising Council and the Walt Disney Co. began their collaborative national literacy promotion with a multimedia blitz on April 4. On that day, public service announcements (PSAs) were distributed nationwide to television and radio stations, as well as magazines and newspapers, and Buena Vista Home Entertainment (Disney's sales and distribution division) released its DVD of the movie, which opened in U.S. theaters to huge crowds on Dec. 9, 2005. The PSAs contain a promotion for the Library's Web site, which, with several special features and a new "Lifelong Literacy" page (www.loc.gov/literacy/) is designed to stimulate the interest and imagination of prospective young readers, particularly those in grades four through six. The aim is to hook them on reading and learning for life.
The new PSAs also are crafted to appeal to parents as well as to children, with the goal of inducing entire families to discover how reading words on a page can fire the imagination, as can listening to music, visiting a museum—or exploring a quality educational Web site, such as www.loc.gov.
While Disney's phantasmagorical scenes from one of Lewis's chronicles, "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe," stream by, the audio message of one PSA is: "When you open a book, you can explore new lands, meet new friends and discover new adventures. There are amazing possibilities when you open your mind to reading. Log onto the Library of Congress Web site and let the journey begin."
"This new initiative with our longtime partners at the Ad Council and our new partners at Disney will help us fulfill our goal of promoting lifelong literacy," said Librarian of Congress James H. Billington. "This effort joins our successful National Book Festival, National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped, Center for the Book, Poet Laureate program and popular Web sites in promoting the joy of reading."
"We are excited to continue our partnership with the Library of Congress and join with Disney in this engaging and important campaign," said Peggy Conlon, president and CEO of the Advertising Council. "The Ad Council is committed to ensuring that all children have the opportunity to achieve their full potential. These PSAs will show children that literacy, in all its forms, will open countless doors and enrich their lives in so many ways."
Public affairs specialist John Sayers, manager of this project, recounted the Library's partnership with the Ad Council, which began in November 2000 with a series of clever PSAs that encouraged children and their families to learn more about history—and to have fun in the process—by visiting the Library's Web site. As the result of the Ad Council's effort on behalf of the Library, the media have donated $192 million in free advertising for the council's PSA campaign.
"The Ad Council developed a series of free television, radio and print ads to encourage children and adults to learn about U.S. history, and that drove traffic to our Web site," Sayers said.
"Through that first campaign, we developed the 'America's Library' Web site, the Library's first to target children specifically, and the 'Wise Guide to loc.gov,' the monthly Web magazine that highlights interesting stories from our online collections," Sayers said.
With the conclusion of that first five-year campaign, he said, "the Ad Council came back and wanted to do another five-year campaign with us. This time, however, we both saw the need to shift the focus to reading—to increase literacy among children and to engage their parents in this effort."
There was data showing need for a national literacy campaign. According to the National Institute for Literacy, success in school and life starts with literacy. When children become good readers in the early grades, they are more likely to become better learners throughout their school years and beyond. However, a U.S. Department of Education study found that from 1983 ato 1999, more than 10 million Americans reached the 12th grade without having learned to read at a "basic" level, and research shows this trend begins much earlier in life. Results from the 2005 National Assessment of Educational Progress Reading Test found that 36 percent of American fourth-graders read below the "basic" level. In addition, the NAEP Reading Test showed that, although 45 percent of U.S. fourth-graders say they read for fun daily, only 19 percent of eighth-graders read for fun every day.
The Ad Council's interest in promoting literacy suited the Library. "We have always been an advocate of reading and literacy, particularly through our Center for the Book and its nationwide network of affiliates and partners as well as through our National Book Festival," Sayers said.
"Coincidentally, about the time we agreed that literacy would be our new campaign, the Walt Disney Co. offered the use of its 'Narnia' DVD images to the Ad Council for the creation of PSAs to promote literacy," Sayers said. He explained that Disney's involvement in promoting government campaigns was not new. In the past, Disney had allowed "Bambi" DVD images to be used for a U.S. Forest Service fire-prevention campaign with Smokey the Bear (an Ad Council invention) and "Cinderella" DVD images to help the Department of Transportation promote the use of car seats and boosters to keep children safe.
The PSAs and the DVDs would promote the Library and literacy by tying the movie back to the C.S. Lewis book and, by extension, to reading and the Library. "We all thought this would be a good fit, so we were able to work quickly to bring Disney in and take advantage of what they do best: create magic," Sayers said.
"Although this is a very important launch, this is the start of a much broader campaign to promote literacy among children and families. In the next few months, with the strong participation of our internal outreach groups and our external literacy partners, we intend to create a much more robust online resource to encourage reading from an early age," Sayers said. "And we'll work with the Ad Council to develop an extensive promotional effort to bring awareness of this matter to the general public and to bring them to the Library for help in generating a love of reading for all ages."
Gail Fineberg is the editor of the Gazette, the Library's staff newspaper.