By Tim Ballingall
The following quote comes from an article by Jean Preer as it appeared in Libraries & the Cultural Record, Volume 45:
“Sixty-one percent (of English-speaking book readers) had not read any book except the Bible in the previous year and that 26 percent of college graduates and 82 percent of those who had attended only elementary school could not remember reading a single book in the past twelve months. An earlier poll showed that only 17 percent were reading a book at the time, while another revealed that though more than half the adults surveyed lived within a mile of a public library, only one-fifth had visited the library during the year preceding the survey.”
The survey Preer is talking about was conducted in 1955.
Around the same time, the American Library Association partnered with the American Book Publishers to form a nonprofit organization called the National Book Committee.
The NBC regularly reported in the National Book Committee Quarterly on their four priorities: “protection of intellectual freedom, development of lifelong reading habits, promotion of library services, and distribution of American books abroad.”
The partnership worked because book publishers wielded mass-market reach while libraries sat in “nearly every community of any size across the country.”
In 1957 NBC assembled a PR campaign to unglue America’s eyes from the TV. The goal was to get Americans to “Wake Up and Read!”—to make “For a Better-Read, Better-Informed America.”
Through the week of March 16-22, 1958, libraries held “open houses, exhibits, special events, reader surveys, contests, reading nights, and panel discussions. Local publicity efforts were to be bolstered with national media coverage arranged by the National Book Committee.”
Promoters used “posters, streamers with the NLW logo, bookmarks, table tents, advertising mats for local merchants, and suggestions for window displays in local stores.”
The well-publicized campaign was a success. “Books Are Here to Stay” headlined the Saturday Evening Post. NLW features ran in This Week magazine and countless other major publications. Circulation was through the roof. Bookworms were officially neato.
In 1974 ALA took the reins of NLW sponsorship. National Library Week this year is April 10-16, and the theme is “Create your own story @ your library.”