Literacy Awards: Thomas Jefferson Would Have Approved

Library of Congress Literacy Awards(The following is a guest post by Guy Lamolinara, communications officer in the Center for the Book at the Library of Congress.)

Thomas Jefferson, the Library of Congress’s spiritual founder, wrote about the pursuit of happiness.

“I like to think that literacy is fundamental to that pursuit. So many doors are closed to those who cannot read. Everyone in this world has a right to happiness and with that comes the right to read.” So said Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden during a ceremony last fall honoring the 2016 Library of Congress Literacy Awards winners and best practices honorees.

Many of us take for granted being able to read instructions on filling out a job application, on reading a website or even something as simple as reading a street sign. Imagine how terrifying it is for those who cannot read to even think about applying for a job.

It’s no surprise that those who cannot read earn significantly less than those who can and that many of these people are living in poverty.

During the Library of Congress National Book Festival gala program in September, the Library shared a short film highlighting some alarming statistics about literacy:

  • 757 million adults cannot read or write a simple sentence, and two-thirds of them are women
  • In the United States one in six adults reads at a basic or below-basic , meaning they cannot read anything more complex than a TV Guide
  • Worldwide, 61 million elementary-age children are not in school, and in the United States, 34 percent of children entering kindergarten lack the basic language skills needed to learn to read
  • Low literacy levels cost the united states $225 billion each year and cost the global economy $1.19 trillion annually

David M. Rubenstein, the philanthropist who sponsors the awards, is himself a voracious reader, and he has stated many times publicly that reading has been key to his success in life.

If you work for a literacy organization or know someone who does, you are encouraged to apply yourself or on behalf of another literacy group. A quarter-million dollars will be awarded this fall to three worthy organizations. For more information, visit to

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