The Joy of Reading

The following is an article, written by Jennifer Gavin of the Library’s Office of Communications, for the September/October 2015 issue of the Library of Congress Magazine, LCM. You can read the issue in its entirety here.)

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, from left, acting Surgeon General Boris D. Lushniak, NFL Hall of Famer Warren Moon and Chef Pati Jinich participate in a “Let’s Read! Let’s Move!” event at the Library of Congress. Courtesy of U.S. Department of Education.

The Library of Congress promotes the pleasure and power of reading.

Thomas Jefferson famously stated, “I cannot live without books,” but he didn’t think the nation should have to live without them, either. So, in 1815, he offered his collection of 6,487 volumes–the finest private library in the U.S.–to Congress to replace its books and maps, destroyed by British arson during the War of 1812.

The Enlightenment concept that a free people–if well-informed–could be their own best masters was an idea close to Jefferson’s heart. And it is a major reason the Library of Congress, in addition to being Congress’ touchstone for research and the de facto national library of the United States, also considers literacy promotion to be part of its mission.


Through public and private partnerships, the Library’s literacy-promotion efforts have a wide reach. Since its establishment by Congress in 1977, the Center for the Book in the Library of Congress is at the heart of the Library’s work for reading and literacy promotion. The center sponsors educational programs that reach readers of all ages–nationally and internationally. It provides leadership for affiliate centers for the book (including the District of Columbia and the U.S. Virgin Islands). The center also works with its 80 nonprofit reading-promotion partners–from the Academy of American Poets to the early childhood learning group “Zero to Three.

The center sponsors a number of reading-promotion contests for young people. Letters About Literature, the Library’s national reading and writing program, asks young people in grades 4 through 12 to write to an author (living or deceased) about how his or her book affected their lives. With private support, more than a million students have participated in this program over the past 20 years.

In partnership with Saint Mary’s College of California’s Center for Environmental Literacy, the Library participates in River of Words–an international poetry and art contest for youth (K-12) on the theme of the environment.

The “A Book That Shaped Me” Summer Writing Contest encourages rising 5th- and 6th-graders to reflect on a book that has made a personal impact on their lives. Administered through the summer reading programs of local public library systems in the Mid-Atlantic region, the program honors its top winners at the Library’s National Book Festival in Washington, D.C.


The Library of Congress recognizes that in the modern, media-driven world, reading online–or in any genre or format–must be at the center of its literacy-promotion efforts. To that end, the Library’s reading-promotion website,, offers online resources ranging from booklists to interactive video games.

 Photo by Shawn Miller.

Photo by Shawn Miller.

The full texts of more than 50 classic books for young people are available on These e-books range from “Aesop’s Fables” and “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” to “Treasure Island” and “A Christmas Carol.”

“The Exquisite Corpse Adventure,” a zany story created by multiple children’s authors and illustrators, is presented on the site in an episodic fashion. “Readers to the Rescue” is a visual game set inside a library inhabited by a cast of storybook characters. Players will view as many as 36 unique animated short films and access 51 classic books they can read online. “Readers to the Rescue” is a collaborative project of the Library of Congress, Brigham Young University and the Ad Council.

The site also offers parents and educators online resources that can assist them in their reading-promotion efforts, including information about programs offered in their local area.


“That All May Read” is the credo of the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS), part of the Library of Congress since 1931. The program provides braille and “talking-book” materials–free of charge–to eligible

U.S. residents (including American citizens living in foreign countries) and lets those unable to use standard print materials due to visual impairment or physical handicap sign up through a network of local libraries. Today, program members also can download their books, magazines or music through their computers or even their cellphones.


Since 2013, the Library of Congress Literacy Awards have provided monetary prizes to three organizations annually, in the U.S. and abroad, that do exemplary, replicable work alleviating the problems of illiteracy (inability to read). Annually, a “best practices” document is produced and distributed.

“Literacy opens doors to life’s great opportunities,” said philanthropist David M. Rubenstein, who supports the awards and the National Book Festival. “Literacy is the basis for success in life.”


With the Children’s Book Council and Every Child a Reader, the Library is the national cosponsor of the National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, a major children’s or teens’ author who advocates for youth reading. The ambassadors, each of whom chooses a theme for his or her tenure, visit children in reading-related venues all over the nation. The current ambassador is Kate DiCamillo, whose platform is “Stories Connect Us.”

Eugene Roh and Ann Brenner work in the African and Middle Eastern Division Reading Room. Photo by Shawn Miller.

Eugene Roh and Ann Brenner work in the African and Middle Eastern Division Reading Room. Photo by Shawn Miller.

The Library’s Poetry and Literature Center promotes those arts and advises the Librarian of Congress in naming the nation’s Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry. Like the National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, each Poet Laureate has a unique project or platform that promotes the reading and writing of verse. Juan Felipe Herrera, the Library’s 21st Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry and the first Hispanic poet to hold the position, begins his term in September.


The Library of Congress is open for research to those over the age of 16. Younger readers have a place of their own–the Young Readers Center in the Thomas Jefferson Building. Children, their families, caregivers and teachers visiting the Library of Congress can come to the Young Readers Center to use computers and enjoy a broad selection of books on-site, participate in author talks and other special programming, and attend story times for young children. The center sponsors special appearances by popular children’s authors such as Jeff Kinney (“Diary of aWimpy Kid”), Katherine Paterson (“Bridge to Terabithia”), Lois Lowry (“The Giver”) and Octavia Spencer (“Randi Rhodes, Ninja Detective”).

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