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Festival 15-year History on Display

The following is a guest post by John Y. Cole, Director, Library of Congress Center for the Book.

Mrs. Bush, Dr. Billington, authors and other celebrities at the opening ceremony of the first National Book Festival, September 8, 2001.

Mrs. Bush, Dr. Billington, authors and other celebrities at the opening ceremony of the first National Book Festival, September 8, 2001.

The first Library of Congress National Book Festival was held on September 8, 2001, three days before the terrorist attacks on New York City and the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. Thus many thought the first festival would be the last, but not first lady Laura Bush, who initiated this popular celebration of reading in cooperation with the Library and served as its honorary chair from 2001-2008. Mrs. Bush quickly reassured Dr. James Billington, the Librarian of Congress, that reading and literacy remained her priority and the book show must continue–as it has now for 15 years.

2015 is not only the National Book Festival’s 15th anniversary; it also is the 200th anniversary of the acquisition of Thomas Jefferson’s personal library by the Library of Congress. This is important because Jefferson’s comprehensive library, which covered all subjects and many languages, still guides the universal collecting policies of the Library–itself the world’s largest and most comprehensive library.

Author Toni Morrison speaks to a packed pavilion at the 2011 National Book Festival. Photo by Tom Fontana.

Author Toni Morrison speaks to a packed pavilion at the 2011 National Book Festival. Photo by Tom Fontana.

This double anniversary of the Library’s most popular public event and most important historical acquisition is celebrated in a three-case display opening today and on view through September 14 in the Library’s Thomas Jefferson Building. The display theme is “I cannot live without books,” Jefferson’s observation to his friend John Adams in 1814.

All three display cases highlight colorful photographs, art work, souvenirs and memorabilia from National Book Festivals from 2001-2014, from the festival’s first home on the National Mall to its current location in the Washington convention center.

A very young reader examines the 2011 National Book Festival program.

A very young reader examines the 2011 National Book Festival program.

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