(The following post is written by Guy Lamolinara, co-director of the Library of Congress National Book Festival.)
The ability to read and write is taken for granted by those who can read and write. But for the millions of people worldwide for whom the written word strikes fear and apprehension in their hearts, these skills are a precious commodity in the countries, towns, villages and families of which they are a part.
With that in mind, the Library of Congress Literacy Awards program was established through the generosity of philanthropist David M. Rubenstein. Though no single program – or even the thousands of literacy programs worldwide – can stanch the affliction of illiteracy, together, these efforts are making a difference.
“The Center for the Book in the Library of Congress is proud to be the administrator of these awards, which support our mission of promoting reading and literacy to all,” said John Y. Cole, director of the center and chair of the Literacy Awards program. “For nearly 40 years, the Center for the Book has worked to help eradicate the plague of illiteracy. These awards will have a profound impact on the programs receiving the prizes.”
This year’s winners, in the third year of the program, represent the best of the best. They were selected from among applicants in both the United States and abroad. They are:
- David M. Rubenstein Prize ($150,000): First Book
First Book is a nonprofit social enterprise that works to further educational equity by tackling the scarcity of books and educational resources for millions of children growing up in low-income families in the U.S. and Canada. Through its growing network – currently numbering nearly 200,000 schools, libraries, after-school programs, social service organizations and other groups serving children in need – First Book has provided more than 135 million books for children ages 0-18 since its inception 23 years ago.
- The American Prize ($50,000): United Through Reading
To help active military personnel stay involved in their children’s literacy development, United Through Reading unites military families facing physical separation by facilitating the bonding experience of reading aloud together. The nonprofit organization films service members reading storybooks and sends the video recordings and the books home to their families. The program is based on research showing that reading aloud to children is a key factor in their acquisition of literacy skills. Since its inception more than 25 years ago, nearly 2 million military parents, spouses and children have benefited from the program.
- The International Prize ($50,000): Beanstalk
Beanstalk is a volunteer-based literacy organization that provides one-on-one support to children ages 6 to 11. Teachers refer children to Beanstalk when they are struggling with reading in the classroom and could benefit from enhanced support. Volunteer tutors work consistently with their assigned children, meeting twice a week for the entire school year to read, play and talk together. By creating a less structured environment, without consequences for perceived failure, tutors are able to help the students engage with and enjoy reading and learning.
Applications for the 2016 Library of Congress Literacy Awards will be accepted beginning in January. All literacy organizations are encouraged to apply, both in the United States and abroad.