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Archiving the National Book Festival

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The following post was written by 2020 Junior Fellows Sally Johnson and Saraya Flaig, who worked in the Signature Programs Office this summer with the project of archiving the National Book Festival.

This year the National Book Festival hits an important milestone of 20 years. Those 20 years encompass a rich history and evolution, as the festival has grown and adapted to fit the ever-changing needs of the literary community and American people. The National Book Festival was founded in 2001 by Laura Bush and then-Librarian of Congress Dr. James H. Billington as a joint effort between the White House and the Library of Congress. Over the years, the festival has evolved immensely, becoming the nation’s premier literary event. It began on the Library of Congress grounds and in its buildings on Capitol Hill, expanding soon thereafter to the lawn of the Capitol and then to the National Mall. The Washington Convention Center has hosted the event in recent years, and now, in 2020, the Library will host its first fully virtual, internationally accessible online festival.

A rainbow shines over the Capitol building as festivalgoers move between pavilions at the 2008 National Book Festival. Photo by Nancy Alfaro.

The goal of our project was to archive the past 20 years of the National Book Festival in a way that would make it virtually accessible. We immediately decided a history web page was the best way to make the past 20 years of the festival accessible to a wide audience; we wanted to create an interactive page that people of all ages felt like they could connect with. Because the festival is now virtual for the first time ever, there will be many new festivalgoers from across the world — and for this reason, making the history of the festival available on the Library of Congress website is vital to this year’s overall National Book Festival experience. The addition of the history web page allowed us to curate content from the past 20 years in an accessible and engaging matter.

The biggest task we undertook was creating a photo gallery for each past year of the festival. We sorted through thousands of photos to find the best moments of the past 20 years of the National Book Festival. This was an important part of our project, as creating a photo gallery allows visitors to “walk through” a festival and experience all of the activities and fun the festival offered that year. You can view the photo gallery from last year’s festival here.

Colson Whitehead speaks in the Poetry & Prose tent at the 2012 National Book Festival. Photo by Cecelia Rogers.

Another aspect of our project that we aimed to accomplish this summer was repackaging older content produced for the National Book Festival, as well as creating new content for this first-ever virtual festival. Thanks to the 2018 Signature Programs Junior Fellows, the Signature Programs Office already had an impressive collection of interviews and history archived and ready to go. We decided to repackage some of that content into a more engaging and user-friendly format, including a video-driven section on the National Book Festival program website as well as shareable infographics. We also wanted to expand upon the already extensive collection of interviews in the digital archives by creating a space on the website for additional text-based reflections on the National Book Festival by authors and Library of Congress employees. These reflections focus on the history, experience, and impact of the festival.

You can learn about the past 20 years of the National Book Festival and access the history web page here. You can learn more about our archiving project by watching our Junior Fellows Display Day video here (and below).

The 2020 Library of Congress National Book Festival will celebrate its 20th birthday this year. You can get up-to-the-minute news, schedule updates and other important festival information by subscribing to this blog. The festival is made possible by the generosity of sponsors. You can support the festival, too, by making a gift now.


  1. Looks like quite a masterful project – congrats to the Fellows!! Thanks to LOC for finding a way to keep the NBF in play during this year of cultural cancellations.

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