To help the Center for the Book evaluate its past and look to its future, the Library has funded a new study to review the center’s original authorization and mandate (Public Law 95-129, approved by President Jimmy Carter on Oct. 13, 1977) and recommend new directions, partnerships and projects for the center in the digital age.
“The Center for the Book’s mission and programs have expanded beyond what was envisioned in 1977 when Librarian of Congress Daniel J. Boorstin created our small, catalytic reading promotion office,” said John Y. Cole, whom Boorstin named as the center’s founding director. “This new study and its recommendations will help us realign our state, national and international reading promotion activities with the Library’s missions.”
The study, which began in June 2007, is being conducted by Natalie Cole Furner (no relation to John Cole), who served as coordinator of the California Center for the Book from 2002 to 2005. In addition, she has worked as a strategic planner and Web site consultant for several organizations, including the Los Angeles Public Library. She currently works part-time as special projects coordinator for UCLA’s Graduate School of Education & Information Studies.
Having completed a review of the center’s relevant print and electronic publications, Furner is now gathering information and opinions through questionnaires and personal interviews with selected state center coordinators and Center for the Book national reading promotion partners. She also met with many of the state coordinators at the 2007 National Book Festival in Washington, D.C.
“My work thus far has focused on the center’s mission, its governance and relationships within the Library of Congress, as well as the role and effectiveness of its state center and reading promotion partner networks,” Furner said. “I’m also examining how the center might best use digital technologies to further its efforts in promoting books, reading, libraries and literacy. By looking back, for example, to the center’s vigorous and effective use of television in the 1970s through 1990s to promote reading, I see a possible ‘model’ for the digital age.”
She will return to Washington in December to meet with Library of Congress officials
and visit the Center for the Book. Her final report and recommendations are due by March 31, 2008.
The Center for the Book Turns 30
The Center for the Book was created by Librarian of Congress Daniel J. Boorstin (1975–1987) to use the prestige and resources of the Library of Congress to promote books and reading. In the course of its 30-year history, the center has become one of the Library’s most dynamic educational outreach programs.
As a public-private partnership, the center’s overall program, individual projects and publications are funded mostly by tax-deductible contributions from individuals, foundations and corporations. Since its inception, Center for the Book Director John Y. Cole has raised more than $15 million in private funds to support various projects and activities. The center’s four full-time positions are supported by the Library’s congressional appropriation. On occasion, government agencies such as Head Start and the National Institute for Literacy have helped support specific projects.
To fulfill its mission, the Center for the Book has created two national reading promotion networks: state centers for the book representing all 50 states and the District of Columbia, and a network of approximately 80 national nonprofit organizations that promote reading, literacy and libraries. The center also works with organizations around the world to encourage the historical study of books, libraries and print culture and to promote reading and literacy. For example, in the 1990s it helped stimulate the creation of the South African Centre for the Book within the National Library of South Africa. In 2001–2002, through a partnership with the Open Society Institute, the center was instrumental in developing a network of “reading centers” in Russian libraries that has grown in number to more than 30.
Major Center for the Book projects at the Library of Congress include the Books & Beyond author series, which presents authors whose works are related to the Library’s holdings; the Letters About Literature national reading and writing promotion program, co-sponsored with Target; River of Words, an international environmental poetry and art contest for young people designed to increase awareness and understanding of the natural world; and participation in the National Book Festival through the development and organization of the author program and the Pavilion of the States.
Since 1977, the Center for the Book has sponsored or co-sponsored the publication of more than 40 books and 50 pamphlets. Its latest publication, “Building a Nation of Readers: Experience, Ideas, Examples,” is an illustrated 261-page volume, written in Russian and English, that describes the history of reading promotion and reading development in the United Kingdom, Russia and the United States.