History of cfb by lamolinara 2003

The National and International Roles of the Center for the Book
Guy Lamolinara, Communications Officer Center for the Book,
Librarian of Congress James H. Billington has called the Center for the Book “a
remarkably effective national, and indeed international, catalyst for promoting books,
reading, literacy and libraries and for encouraging scholarly research about the role of
books and print culture in our society.”1 Over the course of more than thirty years, the
Center has played a pivotal national role in these distinct but complementary areas of
activity and study. Today through its state center network, the Center’s influence reaches
into every state, the District of Columbia and the U.S. Virgin Islands; moreover the
center for the book concept has spread to South Africa, Russia, and other nations around
the world. Within the Library of Congress, the Center is well-known for its sponsorship
of book talks, its key role in the National Book Festival, and its cooperative programs
with other library offices as well as with other institutions in the United States and
Founding Principles
At the urging of Daniel J. Boorstin, the distinguished historian who served as the 12th
Librarian of Congress from 1975 to1987, Congress established the Center for the Book in
1997 through Public Law 95-129. Boorstin’s initiative was supported by the 1976 Task
Force on Goals, Organization and Planning, which the librarian set up soon after his
appointment. Believing that such a body should be informed by an understanding of the
history of the Library, Boorstin named as Task Force chair John Y. Cole, a seasoned staff
member and scholar who had recently completed his doctoral dissertation about how
Ainsworth Rand Spofford , the sixth Librarian of Congress (1864-1897) had shaped the
Library into an institution of national significance. Soon after the Center for the Book
was established, Boorstin named Cole as its founding director.
Among its many recommendations, the Task Force urged the Library to play a more
prominent educational role, particularly in enhancing appreciation of the book and the
printed word. Therefore, it heartily endorsed Boorstin’s proposed legislation to establish
a program “for the investigation of the transmission of human knowledge and to heighten
public interest in the role of books and printing in the diffusion of knowledge”2 In
October 1977, when Boorstin addressed the members of the newly created Center for the
Book’s National Advisory Board, he spelled out both the rationale for and the purpose of
the Center:
You may wonder why the Library of Congress, which of all places, is a
center for the book should now become a place for the establishing of the
Center for the Book. It is to organize, focus and dramatize our nation’s
interest and attention on the book, to marshal the nation’s support—
spiritual, physical and fiscal—for the book.3
Although it was Dr. Boorstin’s vision that led to the creation the Center for the
Book, it is through the leadership of its founding director, John Y. Cole, that the Center
has grown from a modest organization into a nationwide network of literacy and reading
advocates that share the Center’s zeal for the importance of books, reading and book
culture. In addition to recruiting support from institutions and organizations within the
broader community of the book, John Cole has also obtained funding from a wide variety
of corporate sponsors and individual donors. This is possible because the Center was
established as a public-private partnership; the Library of Congress funds its four staff
position (whose number has remained constant for more than 20 years) but all of its
activities, publications, and programs are supported by gifts, endowments, or other
outside funds. Approximately $20 million has been donated to the Center since its
founding. While much of that funding has been devoted to reading promotion activities, a
certain amount of the support from the private sector has also gone to underwrite
scholarly symposia and publications.
Promoting Scholarship on Books, Reading and Literacy
The statute that established the Center for the Book in 1977 specifically prescribes
that the Center “shall stimulate … research in the role of the book in the diffusion of
knowledge.” Over the past 30 years, the Center has fulfilled that mission through its
numerous symposia on book culture in the United States and abroad. These activities
began in 1978 when two days of meetings were held in cooperation with the Book
Industry Study Group; participants discussed a wide range of topics related to American
book reading and buying habits. During its first year of operation, the Center sponsored a
series of lectures on the role of the book in society, featuring topics such as: early
illustrated books and their great artists, early American print shops, and masters of
modern typography. Many of the other symposia sponsored by the Center are highlighted
in this festschrift in an article by Eleanor F. Shevlin and Eric N. Lindquist titled “The
Center for the Book and the History of the Book”
A number programs that the Center sponsored in the 1980s were scholarly in
nature, but featured contemporary rather than historical topics. “The Public Lending
Right” – the notion of an author’s right to compensation for multiple use of his or her
books by libraries, was discussed at a forum in 1983. Later that year, authors, publishers,
critics and filmmakers gathered for a two-day symposium on the nature and influence of
biographical works. A concurrent resolution in the House and Senate was the impetus for
the “Book in the Future” study undertaken by the Center in 1983. Senator Charles
Mathias Jr. of Maryland told members of the Library’s advisory committee charged with
studying the issue: “Set no limits to your visions … for perhaps the future of the book is
not as solid as it might appear”4 – an eerily prescient statement in view of the current
state of book publishing and sales today. “The Subtle Danger: Reflections on the Literacy
Abilities of America’s Young Adults” was a symposium held in 1987. Secretary of Labor
William E. Brock III delivered the keynote address.
A number of the Center’s programs in the 1990s focused on history as the Library
celebrated the renovation and centennial of the Jefferson Building and prepared for its
bicentennial. In 1993, to honor the 250th anniversary of Thomas Jefferson’s birth, the
Center sponsored a three-day event that attracted more than 25 scholars, historians and
writers to discuss Jefferson’s views on the link between education, citizenship and
democratic government. Titled “Thomas Jefferson and the Education of a Citizen in the
American Republic,” this symposium was complemented by a special exhibition of 16
volumes from Jefferson’s personal library, which he sold to Congress in 1815 after the
British burned the U.S. Capitol (which then housed the Library of Congress). (Today a
permanent exhibition of the Jefferson library is on view in the building of the same name
as well as online at www.loc.gov/exhibits/.)
During the Library’s celebration of its bicentennial in 2000, several symposia
were held, including “National Libraries of the World: Interpreting the Past, Shaping the
Future. More recently, the Center has sponsored such diverse projects as a 2006 art
exhibition (with Meridian International) called “This Is Our Land: Discovering America
and the World Through Original Illustrations from Children’s Books.” In 2007, the
Center hosted a program on library accessibility in celebration of Disability Awareness
Month. In 2008, the Center, in partnership with the National Literary Society of the Deaf,
hosted a program on deaf perspectives on library research.
Center for the Book Publications
Since its founding, the Center for the Book has also published or collaborated on
the publishing of more than 100 books and pamphlets that address topics related to
reading and libraries. Several Center for the Book publications have focused on the
Depression-era New Deal and the related collections at LC. John Cole wrote “Amassing
American ‘Stuff’: The Library of Congress and the Federal Arts Projects of the 1930s,”
in 1983, and in 1994 a program of the same name brought together 21 veterans or
observers of New Deal arts projects. In 2008, the American Folklife Center co-sponsored,
with the Center for the Book, the symposium “Art, Culture and Government: The New
Deal at 75.” The Center has also published collections of papers from symposia hosted
at LC and it has often co-published conference proceedings or special collections of
papers such as the 2006 festschrift in honor of library historian Donald G. Davis Jr. A
number of the Center publications that deal with book or library history are discussed in
greater detail in the article by Shevlin and Lindquist.
The Center for the Book also works with the Library’s Publishing Office on
various publications related to the Library’s history, architecture and collections. Some
works are published or co-published by private firms such as Bernan. Among recent
highlights is “The Encyclopedia of the Library of Congress: For Congress, the Nation &
the World,” edited by John Y. Cole and Jane Aikin. Published in 2004, this authoritative
one-volume reference work contains original, carefully documented essays, articles and
statistical appendices. Other Center for the Book publications include “On These Walls:
Inscriptions and Quotations of the Library of Congress,” by John Y. Cole; it has just been
republished (with Scala Publishers) in a revised edition with more than 100 full-color
illustrations by noted photographer Carol M. Highsmith. Dr. Cole also contributed a new
introduction to “Library: The Drama Within,” with photographs by Diane Asséo
Griliches; it was reprinted in 2008 in an edition from Bunker Hill Publishing.
Book and Reading Promotion Themes
While the goal of promoting scholarship was clearly stated in the legislation that
created the Center for the Book, the efforts to promote reading came a bit later. John
Cole wrote: “The concept of ‘reading promotion,’ while not well known when the Center
… was established, nevertheless was an ‘implied’ natural mission for the new
organization. In 1981 the Center launched ‘Books Make a Difference,’ the first of a series
of reading promotion projects… .”5 The idea of this “reading promotion theme,” was to
heighten awareness of the important role that books play in shaping people’s lives. As
activities developed around the theme, an oral history project was launched in which
more than 300 people were interviewed about books that changed their lives. The Center
also reached out to television producers, and this theme became the basis for a Library of
Congress-NBC series of public service announcements extolling the pleasures of reading.
The announcements featured stars of all ages from the network’s most popular programs
at the time, such “Cheers,” “The Cosby Show” and “St. Elsewhere.”
In 1985 the Center teamed with the Association of American Publishers for the
“I’d Rather Be Reading” campaign. Parker Ladd of the AAP said, “At exactly the right
moment in the development of this important program, the Center for the Book has come
aboard with its strength, convictions and prestige.”6 To mark its 10th anniversary in
1987, the Center chose “The Year of the Reader” as its promotional theme. The
International Book Committee endorsed the slogan in a resolution. The IBC recalled the
success of UNESCO’s “Year of the Book” international campaign and hoped the new
campaign would produce similar results. For the first time the White House became an
active supporter of the Center for the Book when President and Nancy Reagan signed
pledges to read at least one additional book in 1987, inaugurating the “Year of the
Reader” project. President Reagan invited all Americans to “restore reading to a place of
preeminence in our personal lives and in the life of our nation.”7
Two years later, the Center celebrated the “Year of the Young Reader.”
First lady Barbara Bush continued the tradition of White House participation and support
of the Center’s activities when she agreed to chair the “Year of the Lifetime Reader”
campaign in 1991.8 “Explore New Worlds—Read!” carried the campaign through 1992,
and “Books Change Lives” was chosen as the theme for 1993-1994. “Reading teaches us
about the world,” said Dr. Cole when he announced the 1995-1996 theme, “Shape Your
Future—Read!” “It helps us make wise choices and prepare ourselves for the path we
have chosen, and it tells us of the achievements of the courageous men and women who
have contributed to our society.”9
The Library has always made the point that reading and literacy are fundamental
elements of a strong democracy, so it was only natural that “Building a Nation of
Readers” would be the campaign for 1997-2000. The theme was also appropriate for use
in celebrating the Library’s bicentennial in 2000. When he announced that “Telling
America’s Stories” would be the 2001-2003 reading promotion theme, Dr. Cole noted
that the slogan took advantage of the newly launched America’s Story from America’s
Library Web site (www.americaslibrary.gov), which was designed to stimulate interest in
history among families and young people through the lively stories it presents using
unique materials from the Library’s collections. Following her mother-in law’s example,
first lady Laura Bush agreed to serve as honorary chair of the campaign.
Special Programs for Young Readers
The Center also places special emphasis on young readers and on instilling a love
of reading from an early age. These youth-oriented programs encourage reading activities
that engage children as well as their families:
□ Letters About Literature
The concept behind this reading and writing program for students is simple: every reader
can point to at least one book that profoundly affected him or her. The Letters About
Literature (www.lettersaboutliterature.org) program began in the early 1980s as Books
Change Lives, an essay writing contest sponsored by the Center for the Book in
association with Read magazine, published by Weekly Reader for students in grades 6
through 9. The top winner received a trip to Washington to visit the Library of Congress,
courtesy of the publisher, and all winners were showcased in Read magazine in an April
edition called “The Student Issue.”
In 1993 Books Change Lives was retooled to emulate more closely the reader-response
approach of teaching reading in middle schools. The new Letters About Literature
program challenged young readers to write a personal letter to an author—past or
present—describing a book’s effect on the reader. In 1997 the program moved from the
Weekly Reader to the Center for the Book, which hired a consultant to be the national
director of the program. Although Weekly Reader continued as a program sponsor,
management and promotion of the program shifted to the national director working with
affiliate state centers for the book. In 2003 Target Stores Inc. joined LAL as a program
partner, giving the program a new national identity; a year later, Target became the
exclusive sponsor. Prizes currently are $10,000 for the six national winners (two in each
of three competition levels), who can name a community or school library as the receiver
of this reading promotion grant.
□ River of Words
Each year, in affiliation with the Center for the Book, River of Words
(www.riverofwords.org) conducts an international poetry and art contest for students ages
5 through 19 on the theme of watersheds. Former Poet Laureate Robert Hass (1995-1997)
and Pamela Michael, former director of the U.N. Task Force on Media and Education,
co-founded River of Words in 1995 as a California-based 501(c)(3) nonprofit
organization. A year later, the River of Words poetry and art competition was launched,
inviting K-12 students to submit a poem or picture on the theme of watersheds.
□ Lifelong Literacy Web Site
The Center for the Book is an important contributor to the Library’s public awareness
campaign, “Explore New Worlds. Read,” which offers resources online at
www.literacy.gov/. The Ad Council and the Library have teamed together to promote
literacy through a series of public service announcements.
□ National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature
In January 2008 the Library named its first National Ambassador for Young People’s
Literature, Jon Scieszka. The position was created to raise national awareness of the
importance of young people’s literature as it relates to lifelong literacy, education and the
betterment of the lives of young people. During the two-year term, the National
Ambassador travels the country to promote the importance of reading by young people.
The program (www.childrensbookambassador.com) is administered in collaboration with
the Children’s Book Council. Scieszka introduced himself in a Jan. 27, 2008, op-ed piece
in the New York Daily News. “Kids are reading less and getting worse at it. So the
Library of Congress and the Children’s Book Council have created a new position and
named our first National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature. That’s me—the guy
with the impossible-to-pronounce last name. … And my new job is to get our kids jazzed
about reading.”
□ Young Readers Center
The Young Readers Center is a new place in the Library’s Jefferson Building that
welcomes children and adults to the wonderful world of books. Here they find a
comfortable space to read aloud to young people, to access kid-friendly sites on the
Internet and to attend programs featuring the nation’s best children’s authors. The center
also features a theater for special readings and information on how young readers can
participate in Center for the Book activities in Washington and across the country.
Using High-Tech to Promote Reading
From its very beginning the Center has employed a variety of media to educate
people about books, and it was a pioneer in using television to promote books and
reading. Although television had begun to be used to promote reading since the
late1950s, under Dr. Boorstin’s leadership, the Center’s goal was to find ways to more
effectively “integrate television and the printed word within the educational process.”10 In
April 1978 the Library held its first symposium on “Television, the Book and the
Classroom.” A publication related to TV appeared in 1987. “Books and Cable Television
Enrich Your Life,” a 16-page reading and viewing guide, was issued by the Arts and
Entertainment Network. Actor E.G. Marshall prepared a 30-second video to announce the
project on the cable channel.
Systematic use of television to foster reading began in 1979 when the first “Read
More About It” segments appeared on CBS. The first 30-second spot was aired at the
conclusion of “All Quiet on the Western Front,” and its star, Richard Thomas, gave
readers a list of some related books to read, including Erich Maria Remarque’s book, on
which the film was based. The Center realized early on the power of celebrities to
persuade Americans. Cable television joined the “read more” family in 1982, when
Showtime’s “Faerie Tale Theatre” provided names of stories in print similar to those
presented in the TV program.
By the time the “Read More About It” project ended in 1999, nearly 400 CBS
television programs had exhorted viewers to “read more” about what they had just seen.
The basic message remained the same: To “read more” about the topic, the Library of
Congress suggested specific titles that viewers could obtain from their local libraries and
bookstores. During its 20 year history, the “Read More About” it segments reached
millions of Americans. In a record for the series, more than 70 million viewers saw the
“Read More About It” that followed the 1992 Super Bowl.
The project attracted other networks, and in the mid-1980s, the Center worked
with NBC Television and ABC Children’s Television, which debuted the character Cap’n
O.G. Readmore in an April 1983 ceremony at the Library. “Our joint commitment is to
bring books and television together to stimulate the widest possible interest in reading,”11
said Dr. Cole at the time. The Center also worked with the news division of CBS
beginning in 1985 for its “American Treasure” series of one-minute spots about unusual
people, places and events in life and fiction. Each of the 100 segments was based on the
collections of the Library of Congress.
A glittering affair that could rival any held in Hollywood took place in 1985 when
the Library hosted some 35 stars to celebrate their contributions to the “Read More About
It” series. Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Helen Hayes, Marsha Mason, Jean Stapleton and Ben
Vereen were among the actors who attended as did then Chief Justice of the United States
Warren Burger. The “Read More About It” series won an award in 1986 from the
National Education Association, and its success was the impetus for Public Television’s
requirement that producers provide reading lists for their programs – which they still do
The “Read More About It” project continues online by offering reading lists to
accompany the thematically organized collections of the Library’s American Memory
Web site (http://learning.loc.gov/learn/collections/book/cntrbook.html). For those
wishing to view some of these historic TV spots, a selection is available at
www.youtube.com (search “read more about it.”). Today, the Center embraces
technology through its Web site (www.loc.gov/cfbook) and through the Ad Councilsupported Lifelong Literacy site (www.literacy.gov). And it is exploring offering video
interviews of Dr. Cole, the Library’s unofficial historian, on YouTube.
The Third Decade: New Initiatives
Celebrating Books and Authors
At the Library of Congress, the Center is a focal point for public programs that celebrate
authors, books and reading and that encourage the study of books and print culture. The
Books & Beyond author series, which began in 1996, has brought writers from all genres
and from across the country and around the globe to the Library to talk about their work.
These writers have used the incomparable collections of the Library in their research, and
they are more than eager to exalt the treasures they can access here as well as the staff
members who bring them to life. Since 2000, these discussions have been recorded for
later Webcast, and more than 100 are available from the Center’s Web site at
www.loc.gov/loc/cfbook/cyber-cfb.html. These Webcasts include programs as diverse as
“An Evening with Chinua Achebe” (2008), whom many consider to be the father of the
African novel in America; a visit from Stephen King, his wife and son discussing their
writing styles (2008); mystery writer Sara Paretsky on her thriller “Fire Sale” (2007);
Harold Bloom on his book “How to Read and Why (2000); and Robert Caro on his
multivolume biography of Lyndon Johnson (2002), to name a few. Appropriately, bestselling author David Baldacci launched his 2006 novel, “The Collectors,” at the Library
of Congress – the scene of the book’s crime.
The Center has also organized special author tributes, most recently for Herman
Wouk. The first Library of Congress Award for the Writing of Fiction was given to the
novelist in 2008, and John Cole emceed the event that brought such luminaries to the
Coolidge Auditorium as Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, journalist William
Safire, ABC News correspondent Martha Raddatz and musician Jimmy Buffet, whose
musical “Don’t Stop the Carnival” is based on Wouk’s novel of the same name. Also in
2008, the Center organized a tribute to Louis L’Amour (1908-1988), one of the most
prolific and best-selling authors of all time. He was honored by the Center for the Book
as its inaugural “Champion of the Book”—a designation reserved for those who have
made an important contribution to the world of books.
National Book Festival
First lady Laura Bush, who initiated the Texas Book Festival, brought the festival
idea to Washington in 2001 and invited the Library of Congress to sponsor and organize
a National Book Festival — which she would host. Supported by private funds, the
National Book Festival (www.loc.gov/bookfest) is held on the National Mall and now
draws more than 120,000 book lovers annually to hear their favorite authors talk about
their books and sign their works. The Center for the Book develops and coordinates the
roster of authors, illustrators, and poets, who are nominated by their publishers for
participation. The writers are from all fields of literary endeavor and their works are
aimed at audiences of all ages.
The Center also sponsors the popular Pavilion of the States, in which
representatives from the 50 states, the District of Columbia and U.S. territories speak to
festival goers about their states’ unique and varied literary heritage. The Book Festival
Web site features a Young Readers Toolkit, with instructions on hosting local book
festivals, age-specific reading lists and suggested topics by festival authors for writing,
illustrating and storytelling.
Going Nationwide with State Centers
When the Center for the Book was founded in 1977 there was no plan for
establishing affiliated centers, but in 1984, a proposal from Broward County Library in
Fort Lauderdale, Fla., sparked what was to become a remarkable burst of activity
nationwide. Just as the Center for the Book uses the prestige and resources of the Library
of Congress in fulfilling its mission, Florida wanted to use the prestige of the national
Center (and the Library) in promoting books and reading in that state, especially its local
literary heritage. That same year, Pennsylvania joined the state center family. State
centers are approved for a three-year period and must reapply for approval for subsequent
three-year periods; they are financially self-supporting. The state centers are expected to
have actively promoted books and reading in their states through activities such as book
festivals, author presentations and reading promotion campaigns.
Illinois, Michigan, Oklahoma, Oregon and Wisconsin brought the number of state centers
to seven in 1985. The push to spread the state center initiative continued in 1987, when
eight states – the most in a single year — joined the fold: California, Connecticut, Indiana,
Iowa, Kansas, Ohio, Texas and Virginia. By 1992, a total of 26 states had local Center for
the Book affiliates with the addition of Arizona and Colorado (1988); Washington
(1989); Alaska, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, New Jersey and Rhode Island (1990);
and Kentucky and North Carolina (1992). Dr. Cole, who personally worked to establish
state centers nationwide, continued to push on. Missouri and North Dakota signed up in
1993, followed by Idaho, Louisiana and Vermont a year later. Wyoming joined in 1995,
and in 1996, Maryland, New Mexico, South Carolina and Tennessee established centers.
Georgia, Maine and Nevada set up their centers in 1998. Utah came on board in 1999 and
was followed by Arkansas, the District of Columbia, Massachusetts and Mississippi the
next year. West Virginia and Alabama joined the fold in 2001; then Hawaii, New York
and South Dakota (2002). Finally, in 2003, Delaware and New Hampshire joined,
bringing the total to 51 (2003). In 2009, the U.S. Virgin Islands Center for the Book was
With a grant from the Lila Wallace Reader’s Digest fund, the Washington Center
for the Book at the Seattle Public Library in 1998 developed the project “If All Seattle
Read the Same Book.” Since then, nearly 500 communities have been logged in on the
national center’s Web site with “One Book” projects, in which a community or state
chooses to read a single book. The Center for the Book began promoting this idea that
same year, and through the network of state centers, this program is promoted nationwide
and, in the overseas affiliates, even in other parts of the world. Sixteen of these are
statewide efforts implemented by a state center affiliate.
Since 1987, representatives of state centers have gathered annually at the Library
of Congress to exchange ideas and share information. The presentation of the Boorstin
State Center Awards has been an annual meeting highlight since 1997. Supported by
funds donated by Daniel J. Boorstin and his wife, Ruth, the awards recognize and support
the achievements of individual state centers. The national center occasionally is able to
support projects that benefit state centers directly. In 1992, the Center for the Book
received a grant from the Lila Wallace-Reader’s Digest Fund for “The Literary Heritage
of the States,” a three-year education and traveling exhibition program. The first phase
was “Language of the Land: Journeys into Literary America,” a traveling exhibition
(www.loc.gov/exhibits) of literary maps that was hosted by 16 state centers and nine
other libraries across the country between 1993 and 1997. Twelve state centers took
advantage of grants to produce new literary maps for their states. Eight state centers,
including Alabama, Ohio, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and South Carolina, have since
produced online, interactive literary maps.
Eleven states now administer, plan and stage state book awards programs.
Oklahoma, the first state to establish such a program, had its 20th Oklahoma Book
Awards ceremony in April 2009. Florida, the latest with a statewide awards program, had
its first ceremony in April 2007. The other states with book awards programs are
Connecticut, Indiana, Massachusetts, Nebraska, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Utah,
Vermont and Washington. Twelve states sponsor statewide book festivals, including
Nebraska since 1991 and Wyoming with its first in September 2007. Alabama, Delaware,
Georgia, Illinois, Kansas, Louisiana, Montana, South Dakota, Virginia and West Virginia
all have well-established statewide book festivals.
Capitalizing on its dynamic network of 52 affiliated centers, the Center for the
Book was the lead organizer behind the National Treasures, Local Treasures pilot
educational program, which is designed to bring the riches of the Library to selected
cities across the country. The program traveled to Broward County, Fla., Denver, Dallas,
San Francisco and Los Angeles in 2008. Events were held in cooperation with the state
centers for the book.
Reading Promotion Partner Network
In addition to the network of state centers, the Center for the Book has organized a
nationwide network of reading promotion partners – other organizations dedicated to
advocating books, reading and literacy. These partners
(www.loc.gov/loc/cfbook/partners/) also meet annually at the Library of Congress to hear
what other organizations are doing and to discover new ways to collaborate. There are
currently more than 80 organizations in this network.
The International Activities and Influence of the Center for the Book
Almost from the beginning of its establishment in 1977, the Center for the Book
has played an international role. In a recent interview John Cole recalled its origins:
During the initial planning meetings for the center in 1978, it was clear
that American publishers were eager for the Center to promote books and
reading internationally and that they would fund our initial projects. As a
historian of the Library of Congress, I was well aware of the institution’s
growing international role in the 20th century and sensed that this was a
key area for the Library in the future. Moreover, since my arrival at the
Library of Congress in 1966, I had developed a personal interest in
collection development, particularly the Library’s blossoming foreign
acquisitions program, and I was eager to make use of my new knowledge
and contacts.”12
In February 1978, the Center sponsored a meeting, in cooperation with the
Association of American Publishers, to explore international issues relating to book and
reading promotion, including how information flows among nations. This was one of two
topics discussed during planning meetings held to help determine the Center’s potential
activities and organization. (The other topic: the history of books and printing.) Nine
years later, in 1987, the Center’s role in international literacy and reading efforts was so
well known that it received the International Book Award from the International Book
Committee, a UNESCO-affiliated body. The award recognized its “imaginative and
practical campaigns on behalf of books and reading in all their diverse aspects, which
have inspired similar efforts in the United States and internationally.”13
The major international activities of the Center for the Book fall into three general

Sponsoring awards, conferences, symposia and other meetings;

Issuing publications on international topics; and

Fostering the development of Center affiliates overseas.
Because a number of the symposia and publications are discussed elsewhere in this
festschrift, the following presentation is selective and organized by region.
International and Regional Conferences and Symposia
In 1979 the Center for the Book hosted its first international conference which was held
at the East-West Center in Hawaii. With the advice of publishers the theme selected was
“The International Flow of Information: A Trans-Pacific Perspective.” The conference
culminated in a two-week tour of the United States for the 17 participants from 12 East
Asian and Pacific Rim nations. Also in 1979 the Center for the Book and the Library’s
Asian Division sponsored a two-day meeting on Japanese literature in translation. It was
followed by the 1984 symposium “Calligraphy and the Japanese Word,” which featured
calligraphy demonstrations by two eminent Japanese artists.
Russia and Eastern Europe
“Book Studies in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe” was the topic for a 1985
symposium that examined the “history and present state of book studies” in these
geographic areas. The symposium papers noted that while there was a great growth in
literacy in the U.S.S.R. during its early decades, there was also “accelerated politicization
of book studies beginning in the late 1920s.”14 After the fall of the Soviet Union the
opportunities for research and travel increased dramatically, and the Center was able to
sponsor a number of programs and exchanges, drawing on Librarian of Congress James
H. Billington’s extensive knowledge of Russian history and culture and his many
contacts in the region. In 1993 the Center held a conference that focused on the
“Publishing and Book Culture in Russia and the New States: Challenges of the West.”
Participants spoke of the “crisis in Russian book culture” and noted that because Russian
society had virtually no history of private entrepreneurship, post-Soviet publishing in
Russia was in peril. The lack of government subsidies for the industry, as one participant
put it, has “turned publishing on its head.”
Dr. Billington continued to welcome Eastern European visitors, and in 1994 and
1995 the Center for the Book hosted one-day programs for publishers from that part of
the world who wished to learn about U.S. publishing practices. Dr. Cole spoke about
the Center’s international activities at the 1995 Warsaw International Book Festival and
at the National Library of Poland. The following year, Dr. Billington and Dr. Cole
traveled to Vologda, Russia, to speak at the international conference on “Libraries and
Reading in Times of Cultural Change.” The conference, which received a small subsidy
from the Center for the Book, gave librarians, scholars and administrators from Russia
and the United States an opportunity to exchange information about recent changes in
libraries, reading habits and book culture in those countries.
South Africa
In 2003 the Center for the Book organized “South Africa: A Journey to Promote
Reading & Literacy.” The program featured events of special interest to librarians,
educators and reading and literacy promoters and included working visits to the South
African Centre for the Book in Cape Town, the National Library of South Africa, the
South African Children’s Book Forum and “Sesame Street South Africa,” where an
initiative was developed to help children appreciate all of South Africa’s 11 official
languages. Discussions with South African government officials, educators, authors,
librarians, publishers and reading professionals were part of the program, and three
symposia were held: “Reading Promotion Strategies,” “‘Book Famine’ in South
Africa” and the “Digital Divide.”
Latin America
The Center for the Book, along with the Library’s Hispanic Division and the
Consortium of the Latin American Studies Program at the University of Wisconsin in
Milwaukee, hosts the Americas Awards for Children and Young Adult Literature. Held
annually at the Library of Congress, the awards honor outstanding U.S. works of
fiction, poetry, folklore or selected nonfiction that “authentically and engagingly
portray Latin America, the Caribbean or Latinos in the United States.” In 2007 authors
Margarita Engle and Jennifer Riesmeyer Elvgren and illustrators Sean Qualls and
Nicole Tadgell received the 2006 Americas Award. Engle and Qualls were honored for
their book, “The Poet Slave of Cuba.” Elvgren and Tadgell were recognized for their
book, “Josias, Hold the Book.” In 2008 authors Pat Mora and Laura Resau and
illustrator Rafael Lopez received the 2007 Americas Award. Mora and Lopez were
honored for their book, “Yum! Mmmm! Que Rico! America’s Sproutings.” Resau was
recognized for her book, “Red Glass.”
International Programs
In 1985 the Center began a longtime partnership with the International Reading
Association for the celebration of International Literacy Day. The program featured a
discussion of the significance of a new report by the Commission on Reading, “On
Becoming a Nation of Readers.” Other international programs hosted by the Center
included a 1993 conference to celebrate the 50th anniversary of American libraries
overseas. Co-sponsored by the Center and the U.S. Information Agency, this program
featured Librarian of Congress Emeritus Daniel J. Boorstin. The conference studied how
technology could help strengthen U.S. libraries abroad and the formation of new
partnerships, among other topics.
When the Library celebrated its bicentennial in 2000, the Center for the Book sponsored
a four-day international conference titled “National Libraries: Interpreting the Past,
Shaping the Future.” This event drew 150 participants from around the globe. According
to Dr. Billington, the goal was to “reach out both internationally and back into the past to
broaden and enrich all of us.” The participants included both library historians and 32
current library directors. Dr. Billington reminded them that the digital future would
greatly affect libraries, especially national libraries. He asked participants to explore the
potential of new technology to create a global library, while preserving, restoring and
honoring historical collections and unique traditions.
Many of the conferences and other meetings that the Center has sponsored have resulted
in publications. Such was the case in 1984, when a series of discussions organized by
Curtis G. Benjamin, former president of McGraw-Hill Book Co., led to Benjamin’s
volume, “U.S. Books Abroad: Neglected Ambassadors.” The Center sponsored both the
discussions and the volume’s publication. John Cole wrote in the preface that “the role of
the book in the future, both nationally and internationally, is a prime concern of the
Center for the Book.”15 The study was done to “stimulate renewed and wider awareness,
first, of the dire need for U.S. books in less developed countries, and, second, of possible
ways and means by which this need may be met.”
“The Indivisible World: Libraries and the Myth of Cultural Exchange,” by Dr. Boorstin,
was the result of a paper presented at the IFLA General Conference in Chicago in 1985.
The Center published the paper, which contended that although:
The world’s cultures — and the culture of books — may be defined by
languages, by traditions and by historical movements, they are not
confined by national boundaries: All boundaries in the world of culture
and ideas are artificial and all are doomed to be dissolved. We, the
librarians of the world, are servants of an indivisible world. Though some
of us are national librarians, culture is not national. All culture belongs to
all people. Books and ideas make a boundless world. To try to confine the
reading or the thinking of any people violates the very nature of culture.16
“International Library Horizons: Some Personal Observations” by Robert Vosper was
published in 1989. One of the outstanding library leaders in the United States from the
1950s to the 1980s, Mr. Vosper was a key participant in international-library activities,
including those of IFLA. The booklet, sponsored by the Center for the Book, contains his
recollections and observations on topics such as post-World War II library acquisitions
from Europe, the international activities of the American Library Association and the
Association of Research Libraries, U.S. involvement in IFLA and many of the IFLA
general conferences in the 1960s and 1970s.
A symposium in 1990, sponsored by the Center for the Book and the Library of Congress
African/Middle Eastern Division, led to the 2005 publishing of “The Book in the Islamic
World: The Written Word and Communication in the Middle East.” Its 13 papers
examine the book not as an artifact but in terms of its intellectual and social influence in
the Islamic world.
The Center for the Book, the British Council and the Pushkin Library Foundation in
Russia in 2007 published “Building Nations of Readers: Experience, Ideas, Examples,” a
handbook on reading promotion. Produced in cooperation with the Section on Reading of
IFLA, the illustrated volume, written in both English and Russian, described reading
promotion and reader development in the United Kingdom, Russia and the United States.
Center for the Book Affiliates in Other Nations
The Center for the Book has been an inspiration and a model not only for the state
centers in the United States, but also for similar initiatives in Britain, Canada, Russia and
South Africa. In some cases these efforts were short lived or were limited in scope, yet in
other cases their success has been considerable.
The earliest attempt occurred in 1989 when the Board of the British Library “gave its
blessing to the idea of a Centre for the Book to be established within the library.”
According to Tim Rix, who was chairman of the British Centre’s consultative committee,
the Centre eventually was to be housed in the new British Library building at St.
Pancras, which opened in 1993. Through its various programs, the Centre’s goal was to
“protect and promote the rightful place of books in our society.18 The British Centre had a
very successful program of book promotion but it never made it to St. Pancras: A lack of
sufficient funding forced the closing of the Centre in 1993.
In 1995, Canada considered developing its own Center for the Book; a study was
conducted and most of the 250 respondents favored its creation. However, opinion was
divided and Canada opted instead to begin a program akin to the Read More About It
series of 30-second television spots that the U.S. Center for Book created in co-operation
with CBS. In Canada, the project, co-sponsored by the Canadian Broadcasting
Corporation, was called Read Up on It, and television viewers were encouraged to read
more books by Canadian authors.
A more successful effort occurred in Russia, and came about as a result of contacts that
date from 1991, when Librarian Billington asked John Cole to help organize a 10person American delegation that would attend a three-day conference in Moscow in late
October. The theme of this meeting was “The National Library in the Life of the Nation:
The Lenin State Library and the Library of Congress.” During that meeting, Dr. Cole met
his Lenin State Library reading promotion counterpart, Valeria Stelmakh, with whom he
remained in contact. After the collapse of the Soviet Union in December 1991, the
national library scene in Russia changed drastically. Over the next decade more Russian
librarians were able to participate in international meetings and travel to the United
States. Then, in June 2002, the Center for the Book led a seven-member delegation of
U.S. librarians and reading promotion experts to Russia to participate in “Reading World
and World of Reading,” an international conference held in St. Petersburg. The delegates
also toured libraries in St. Petersburg, Moscow and Vladimir. The visit culminated the
first phase of an international project developed by the Open Society Institute (OSI, Soros
Foundation-Moscow), the institute’s Pushkin Library Megaproject and the Center for the
Book. This collaboration resulted in an OSI project that created 22 Centers for the Book,
(called “reading centers”) throughout Russia. Valeria Stelmakh played a major role in the
establishment of the system of Russian Centers for the Book that exists today. With Dr.
Cole she also co-edited the 2007 handbook “Building Nations of Readers: Experience,
Ideas, Examples.”
The creation of the South African Centre for the Book as a unit of the National Library of
South Africa was a long and sometimes difficult process. Discussions began with a visit
to the Center for the Book from the National Library in 1989, and in 1995 the South
African national librarian announced that a Centre for the Book would open there. It was
established in 1997 under the new democratic regime and vigorously undertook, among
other projects, a major literacy promotion project, “First Words in Print,” that won a
major award in 2004 from the International Board on Books for Young People (IBBY).
Once again, the Center for the Book in the Library of Congress had helped to firmly
establish what is often taken for granted: that books, reading and literacy are inextricably
bound to a strong democracy, no matter where in the world that democracy might be.
I gratefully acknowledge early assistance in developing this essay from Maurvene D.
Williams, former Center for the Book program officer.
Helen Dalrymple, “The Center for the Book’s 25th Birthday: Dr. Boorstin and 50 State
Affilates Honored,” Library of Congress Information Bulletin 62 (Jan. 2003): 3.
John Y. Cole, “The Center for the Book in the Library of Congress,” Quarterly Journal
of the Library of Congress 36 (Spring 1979): 178.
Daniel J. Boorstin, “A Center for the Book in the Library of Congress,” in John Y. Cole,
ed., The Republic of Letters: Librarian of Congress Daniel J. Boorstin on Books,
Reading, and Libraries 1975-1987 (Washington, D.C.: Library of Congress, 1989), 40.
“The Book in the Future Discussed,” Library of Congress Press Release, March 15,
John Y. Cole, “Promoting Books and Reading: Nationally, Internationally, and in the
States,” Library of Congress Information Bulletin 62 (Jan. 2003): 11.
“Center for the Book to Co-Sponsor ‘I’d Rather Be Reading’ Promotion Theme,”
Library of Congress Press Release, April 26, 1985.
“President and Mrs. Reagan Sign “Year of the Reader’ Pledges,” Library of Congress
Press Release, May 5, 1987.
“Barbara Bush Receives Women’s National Book Association Award,” Library of
Congress Press Release, July 19, 1990.
“Shape Your Future—Read! To Be Library of Congress National Reading Promotion
Theme for 1995-1996. Library of Congress Press Release, Nov. 7, 1994.
John Y. Cole, “CFB on TV: Center for the Book Begins Third Decade of Promoting
Reading on Television,” Library of Congress Information Bulletin 57 (Dec. 1998): 290292.
“Joys of Reading to be Given Lively Boost by Cap’n O.G. Readmore in New Library
of Congress/ABC Television Venture.” Library of Congress Press Release, April 21,
Interview with John Y. Cole, April 6, 2009
Citation, International Book Award, London, Aug. 20, 1987.
Edward Kasinec and Robert A. Karlowich, “ Book Studies in the Soviet Union and
Eastern Europe: A Symposium at the Library of Congress, October 30, 1985,” Library of
Congress Information Bulletin 45 (Feb. 3, 1986): 51.
Curtis G. Benjamin, U.S. Books Abroad: Neglected Ambassadors, (Washington, D.C.:
Library of Congress, 1984), pp. v, 1.
Daniel J. Boorstin, The Invisible World: Libraries and the Myth of Cultural Exchange
(Washington, D.C.: Library of Congress, 1985): 12.
Tim Rix, “In the Cause of Books: The British Library Centre for the Book,” British
Book News, 1991.

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