By JOHN Y. COLE
This year was the 20th year of the Center for the Book in the Library of Congress's pioneering role in using television to promote books and reading.
The center is one of the educational outreach partners of "Between the Lions," a major public-television reading and literacy promotion program being planned for fall 1999 by WGBH in Boston. Aimed at children in the 4-to-7-year-old range, the program -- set in a library -- features the lions Theo and Cleo and their cubs Lionel and Leona. Theo made his debut at the American Library Association's annual conference in Washington in June 1998, including an appearance at the conference reception at the Library of Congress on June 27.
The center continued its close cooperation with The Learning Channel in the production of its "Great Books" series of one-hour specials about well-known literary works (see LC Information Bulletin, May 13, 1996). On Aug. 29, 1998, "Great Books" received the prestigious 1998 Governors Award of the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences during the Emmy Awards ceremony in Pasadena, Calif. A two-day Great Books Festival on The Learning Channel in September 1998 featured world premieres of two programs, "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" and "The Naked and the Dead" and encore performances of the 17 other programs, which include "Gulliver's Travels," "The Odyssey," "Native Son," "Interpretation of Dreams," "Catch-22," "Alice in Wonderland" and "War of the Worlds." Each of the programs carries a separate acknowledgment, "Produced in cooperation with the Center for the Book in the Library of Congress."
On Sept. 13, 1998, the Center for the Book was part of C-SPAN2's live five-hour telecast from the Library of Congress. The LC broadcast was part of the debut of "Book TV," developed by C-SPAN2 Chairman Brian Lamb as a weekly, 48-hour weekend presentation of "serious" nonfiction, literary events and book and reading discussions.
The Library of Congress program began with a live interview with Dr. Billington in the Main Reading Room and concluded with an interview with this writer, during the last hour. Both took call-in questions from viewers. Other segments included a presentation from the Library's Rare Book and Special Collections Reading Room by division Chief Mark Dimunation; an interview about Thomas Jefferson and the world of books with Manuscript Division specialist Gerard W. Gawalt; an overview of book conservation and a tour of the conservation laboratory by acting conservation officer Tom Albro; an explanation of Jefferson Building architecture by Ford Peatross of the Prints and Photographs Division; a presentation about the history of the Library and a tour of the Jefferson Building by this writer; and a one-hour opportunity for viewers to ask this writer questions about books, reading and the Library through an online "chat room."
During 1998 C-SPAN2 also continued to film many of the Center for the Book's "Books & Beyond" author presentations for viewing as part of its "Booknotes" and "Book TV" programming.
Combining Books and Television, 1977-1998
One of then Librarian of Congress Daniel J. Boorstin's reasons for establishing the Center for the Book in 1977 was to demonstrate the complementary relationship of books and other media. Television was the dominant technology at the time, and Dr. Boorstin believed that television was an ideal vehicle for promoting books and reading. In 1977 this was a novel idea that today is taken for granted.
The sponsors of the April 26-27, 1978, symposium in the Library's Whittall Pavilion on "Television, the Book and the Classroom" were the Center for the Book and the U.S. Department of Education. The stated purpose was to discuss two questions: How can television be used imaginatively and effectively in the learning process? and What practical steps can be taken at the national level to integrate television, the book and the printed word within the educational process? The overall goal was "to stimulate fresh thinking and perhaps new partnerships" among participants and particularly with the commercial networks, which were all represented at the meeting.
The principal speakers were Dr. Boorstin, U.S. Commissioner of Education Ernest L. Boyer, educator Mortimer J. Adler and Frank Stanton, former president of CBS. Two dozen other educators, broadcasters and federal officials participated. The presentations and discussions are summarized in Television, the Book, and the Classroom (1978), which was the Center for the Book's first publication. One immediate result was a series of Department of Education television initiatives. Another result was the Library of Congress/CBS Television "Read More About It" book project, which was launched in November 1979 with the CBS telecast of "All Quiet on the Western Front," starring Richard Thomas.
The heart of the "Read More About It" project with CBS, from 1979 until now, has been a 30-second message from the Library, broadcast with a program, that suggests two or three related books. The spot urges viewers to go to their local library or bookstore to "read more about it." More than 400 separate messages have been presented since 1979, either by the star of the program (for dramas, made-for-television movies, musical and variety shows) or, in the case of news, sports, parades, award shows, animated children's programs and science specials, by the CBS announcer or narrator.
During the project's first five years, it was well publicized with articles in The New York Times, the Christian Science Monitor, Publishers Weekly, education journals and the entertainment press. In 1986 it won an award from the National Education Association, and its success provided impetus for public television's requirement that producers furnish reading lists with most program proposals.
During the same period, the lists of recommended "Read More About It" books were published in the Information Bulletin. While the Center for the Book coordinated the project, most of the lists were prepared by Library of Congress specialists. The Oct. 3, 1983, issue of the Information Bulletin cites 45 "CBS Television Stars Who Have Presented Read More About It Messages" (from Rosanna Arquette to Andy Williams) and 36 "LC Staff Members Who Have Prepared 'Read More About It' Lists" (from Judith Austin to Walter Zvonchenko). Since the mid-1980s, Center for the Book staff members have prepared the lists, frequently consulting with LC staff specialists.
Sports telecasts and parades have brought the largest audiences. Highlights include: the Jan. 26, 1992, Super Bowl telecast of the game between the Washington Redskins and the Buffalo Bills, when the "Read More About It" message, presented by announcer Terry Bradshaw, was seen by more than 70 million viewers; the first World Series "Read More About It" message, seen by more than 15 million viewers on Oct. 16, 1993; the first U.S. Tennis Open message, presented by announcer Mary Carillo on Sept. 3, 1995; and actor Doug ("The Young and the Restless") Davidson's message during the 1997 Tournament of Roses Parade, seen by more than 20 million viewers.
Another highlight was an Oct. 25, 1985, black tie dinner in the Library's Great Hall that marked the "Read More About It" project's seventh season and honored the actors and actresses who had presented the messages.
The Library's success with "Read More About It" attracted other television networks, and in the mid-1980s the Center for the Book began projects with ABC Children's Television and with NBC Television. In 1983, the center and ABC created "Cap'n O.G. Readmore", a cat who was smart because he read a lot (he lived in an alley behind a public library). The animated 30- and 60-second spots featuring Cap'n O.G., created by artist Rick Reinhart, were among the first animated reading promotion messages on television. Today Cap'n O.G. still occasionally shows up as a host on ABC's Saturday afternoon children's television specials.
The center's television projects with NBC, which lasted for several television seasons, focused on the center's "Year of the Reader" and "Books Make a Difference" themes. Key components were reading lists, posters featuring Bill Cosby and Keshia Knight Pulliam from "The Cosby Show" and public service announcements featuring NBC stars from popular programs such as "The Golden Girls," "L.A. Law" and "Family Ties."
Other innovative projects were developed with cable television companies. "Books and Cable Television Enrich Your Life:" An Arts & Entertainment Network/Library of Congress Project," focused on teachers and classroom uses of A&E programs, for which the Center for the Book provided reading lists. In 1989-90, the center and the Bravo Cable Network developed a "Bravo for Books" project for the center's "Year of the Young Reader" campaign.
In 1997, the Center for the Book worked with ABC Television in the production of Library of Congress promotion announcements presented at the end of 13 "Genie's Great Minds Think for Themselves" 90-second messages, each presented by Robin Williams during the "Disney's One Saturday Morning" series on ABC. Each of the animated features provided an entertaining and educational look at a well-known historical personality and ended with a photograph of the Jefferson Building and a simultaneous message "Visit Your Local Library and the Library of Congress Web site -- www.loc.gov."
The latest digital age application of the "convergence of technologies" idea behind the Center for the Book's television projects can be found today on the American Memory "Learning Page," where users interested in learning more about American history can find reading lists from the Center for the Book that send them to their local libraries and bookstores to "Read More About It!"
Mr. Cole has been the director of the Center for the Book since it was established in 1977.