The Center for the Book marked its 20th birthday on Oct. 21 with an open house and "thank you" party for its founders, donors, friends and Library of Congress staff members who through the years have supported its various activities -- not only its dozens of lectures, conferences and special events, but also its eight exhibitions and more than 80 publications.
Librarian of Congress Emeritus Daniel J. Boorstin, who established the center in 1977, was a special guest, along with his wife, Ruth. Dr. Boorstin spoke briefly about the center's origins. Dr. Billington spoke about the center's national influence, pointing to it as an admirable example of a small office (four employees) that has a large "multiplier effect" on the world of books, reading, and libraries -- nationally and internationally.
Center for the Book director John Y. Cole thanked Librarians Boorstin and Billington for their vision and support, introduced and thanked the center's staff (Maurvene D. Williams, Anne Boni, Patricia White), and provided essential facts about the center's program since 1977. He also looks forward to involving the Center for the Book's national network of 34 affiliated state centers and more than 50 national organizational partners in the commemoration of the Library's bicentennial in the year 2000.
Establishment of the Center for the Book
In "A Design for an Anytime, Do-It-Yourself, Energy-Free Communication Device," a 1974 article in Harper's Magazine, historian Daniel J. Boorstin praised the "wonderful, the uncanny, the mystic simplicity" of the book. The next year President Gerald R. Ford nominated Dr. Boorstin as the 12th Librarian of Congress, and two years later Dr. Boorstin proposed legislation to Congress for the establishment of a Center for the Book in the Library of Congress. The legislation was sponsored by Rep. Lucien N. Nedzi of Michigan and Sen. Howard Cannon of Nevada, the chairman and vice chairman of the Joint Committee on the Library. With enactment of Public Law 95-129, approved on Oct. 13, 1977, Congress endorsed a program to "stimulate public interest and research in the role of the book in the diffusion of knowledge." President Jimmy Carter approved the legislation as an indication of his "commitment to scholarly research and to the development of public interest in books and reading."
The Boorstin initiative for a Center for the Book was endorsed by the Publishers Advisory Group, one of eight outside advisory bodies established in 1976 by Dr. Boorstin as part of his Task Force on Goals, Organization and Planning. The Task Force itself was chaired by John Y. Cole. The Publishers Advisory Group, headed by Dan Lacy of McGraw-Hill Inc., had urged the Library to create "a new body to fill and greatly enlarge the role of the former National Book Committee," which from 1954 to 1974 had promoted books, reading and libraries.
The legislation establishing the Center for the Book authorized the Librarian of Congress to raise private funds to support the center's activities; indeed, there was an understanding with Congress that the center's programs would be privately supported. The first contribution, $20,000 from McGraw-Hill Inc., was used in 1977 and 1978 to convene planning meetings to discuss the new center and its potential activities. Other major contributors in 1978 were Time-Life Books and Mrs. Charles W. Engelhard, Jr.
The Creation of a National Network
Since 1984, the Center for the Book has invited individual states to establish affiliated centers that would bring its reading promotion themes and projects to the state and local level. State centers develop activities such as book fairs and book award programs that promote their state's book culture and literary heritage. They also sponsor projects and host events that call attention to the importance in their state of books, reading, literacy and libraries. When its application is approved, a state center is granted affiliate status with the LC Center for the Book for three years. Renewals are for three-year periods.
Most of the state centers are located in state libraries or in large public library systems. Many of them are incorporated not-for-profit organizations. The first two state centers, Florida and Illinois, are still active. The other state centers are: Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, Wisconsin and Wyoming.
More than 50 national educational and civic organizations and federal agencies are Center for the Book "reading promotion partners." These groups keep the center informed about current developments in education, literacy and libraries and in their projects frequently use Center for the Book "themes" such as "Year of the Reader" (1987); "Year of the Young Reader" (1989); "Year of the Lifetime Reader" (1991); "Explore New Worlds -- READ!" (1992); "Books Change Lives" (1993-94); "Shape Your Future -- READ!" (1995-96); and "Building a Nation of Readers" (1997-2000).
Encouraging the study of the historical role of books, reading and libraries has been part of the Center for the Book's program since its creation. Visiting scholars have included Elizabeth Eisenstein (1979), Marianna Tax Choldin (1983), Alice D. Schreyer (1983-84) and Valeria Stelmakh (1996). In recent years the center has supported the creation of centers for the study of the history of books and print culture at several academic institutions, such as the Center for the Study of Print Culture in Modern America at the University of Wisconsin and the Penn State Center for the History of the Book. The center also hosted, in 1994 at the Library of Congress, the second annual conference of the Society for the History of Authorship, Reading and Publishing (SHARP).