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Guy Lamonlinara

Q & A: Guy Lamolinara, at the Center for the Book

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Guy Lamolinara is head of the Center for the Book.

Tell us about your background.

I grew up in a Cleveland suburb. After high school, I attended Ohio State, thinking I wanted to be a dentist. I took all the prerequisites — biology, physics, chemistry — but quickly learned what I most liked to do was write.

I also took a lot of English lit and earned enough credits for a major. I then went to grad school and got a master’s degree in journalism, thinking it was a great way to have a writing career.

Before coming to the Library, I worked at various publications, including the Kansas City Star, Army Times and Congressional Quarterly Weekly Report.

What brought you to the Library, and what do you do?

I came to the Library out of desperation. I hated my job at the time and was willing to go anywhere that would have me. A friend who worked at the Library told me about a job in the Public Affairs Office (now Communications) as editor of the Library’s magazine (then called the Information Bulletin). I was thrilled when I got the call that the job was mine!

But I also thought I would not stay long, that I would be bored and miss the adrenaline dose of daily deadlines. Clearly, I was very wrong.

Thirty-three years later (34 this coming May), I can honestly say I’ve never been bored, that I learn something new almost daily, thanks to the extraordinary people I get to work with and the collections we have. I never cease to be amazed at the knowledge of staff members and how eloquently they talk about the amazing things we have.

I worked in Public Affairs for 12 years, editing the magazine but also doing press relations for this new invention called the World Wide Web. When the internet came along, the Library was way ahead of just about every institution. It had already digitized thousands of items and had been distributing them to schools nationwide on CDs. So, we could immediately put thousands of items online.

The media were intently interested. It gave me the chance to get our name in the pages of virtually every major publication. Networks and newspapers like The New York Times, CNN and PBS were frequently here working on stories.

Did I mention the luminaries I got to meet or see in person? Queen Elizabeth, Prince Philip, Jane Fonda, Mikhail Gorbachev, the Empress of Japan, Ruth Bader Ginsburg. I shook hands with Angela Lansbury. “How lucky you are to work here,” she told me.

After Public Affairs, I went to Strategic Initiatives (now the Office of the Chief Information Officer). That unit directed the National Digital Information Infrastructure and Preservation Program. That mouthful of a name was for a project that made grants to institutions wrestling with preservation of born-digital materials. I was the communications officer.

I’ve been with the Center for the Book for about 16 years and its head for about six. The center is a network of 56 affiliates in 50 states, Washington, D.C., and five U.S. territories. Our mission is to promote books, reading, libraries and literacy nationwide. The centers also have a mandate to promote their local literary heritage. Each center takes the lead on how it meets the mission.

The job has taken me to at least half of the states, including Alaska (twice) and Hawaii, and to Puerto Rico. Tracy K. Smith, then poet laureate, read her work during the launch of the Puerto Rico center.

What are some of your standout projects?

The Roadmap to Reading is one of the most rewarding projects I manage. It brings representatives from all the centers to Washington, D.C., during the National Book Festival to promote their state’s literary heritage. It’s inspiring to see families crowd the tables, eager to learn about authors and literature from across the country.

I was also part of the creation of major programs that still exist today, including the National Book Festival, the Prize for American Fiction, the National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature program and the Literacy Awards program.

What do you enjoy doing outside of work?

It would be no surprise if I told you I love reading, but you might be surprised to learn that I mostly read classic fiction of dead writers. America has many great living writers. But I think William Faulkner was the greatest writer who ever lived, and Toni Morrison was America’s last literary genius.

What is something your co-workers may not know about you?

My wife and I love taking Amtrak to New York and seeing Broadway shows. For us, there is nothing that compares with seeing a show in the theater district. We’ve been able to travel and stay for free this year in Amsterdam and Italy thanks to my miserly collection of hotel points over many years.

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  1. Thanks for this recap of your years at the Library — continuing into the future no doubt! We envy the opportunities you have had to peek into the institution’s myriad corners, meet a variety of visitors, and learn from knowledgeable staff members! Cultural institutions like the Library and the Center(s) for the Book are an important part of our national life.

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