Center for the Book

There is a small office over at the Library of Congress that makes big waves. It is called the Center for the Book and it is under the direction of John Y. Cole, a 20-year veteran of the library's staff. The brainchild of Daniel J. Boorstin, Librarian of Congress, the center was established by law in 1977 to use the prestige and resources of the library to stimulate public interest in books and reading, and to encourage scholarly consideration of books and the printed word. Cole is the only federally paid employe of the center. Other staff and consultants, as well as the cost of projects -- a budget amounting to about $100,000 a year -- are paid for by private donations from companies, foundations and individuals.

As part of its mission to call public attention to books, the center has corraled the TV networks to help. During halftime of the National Football League playoff, you might have noticed Walter Payton, in a 30-second spot, urging the value of reading and presenting a list of books on football prepared by the Library of Congress. That was part of an ongoing series arranged by the center with CBS. There have been over a hundred such spots since 1979 when Richard Thomas read a message after a televised version of All Quiet on the Western Front and suggested further books for reading about World War I.

In conjunction with ABC, the center has created a cartoon character called Cap'n O.G. Readmore, an articulate cat who encourages kids to read. Says Cole: "His message is that reading is fun, that readers are leaders." The Cap'n is going into his third year on the tube and ABC studies indicate the viewers like him. He has had his own half-hour special and co-hosts a weekend special with a different human host each week. He has also scratched his way into print in The Adventures of Cap'n O.G. Readmore by Fran Manushkin, a book published by Scholastic.

The center is now in negotiations with NBC to develop a similar kind of project on reading motivation.

One goal of Boorstin and Cole is to encourage the creation in the states of Centers for the Book affiliated with the program at the Library of Congress. So far, two have been set up, in Florida and Illinois, and plans have been approved for centers in Oklahoma and Oregon. Four additional states have submitted proposals for affiliation.

On the scholarly side, the center is involved in a myriad of projects, symposia, lectures, exhibitions and publications -- all those things that keep professors and librarians so busy that they hardly have a minute to relax. One notable endeavor in this area is the Engelhard lectures on the book, sponsored by the center with funds contributed by Mrs. Charles W. Engelhard. The next lecture in the series will be by Prof. Harrison Hayford of Northwestern University. He speaks at the library on March 13 about editing the works of Herman Melville. On May 29, the center, in cooperation with Oxford University Press, will sponsor a symposium about the Oxford English Dictionary. On the preceding evening, Robert Burchfield, editor of the Oxford dictionaries, will give a public lecture at the library. Years of the Pig

Someone has described the demographic impact of the baby-boom generation as resembling a pig passing through a boa constrictor. Well, the pig has made its presence felt in book buying, according to the recently issued 1985 Gallup Annual Report on Book Buying, isssued by the Gallup Organization, the polling people from Princeton, New Jersey.

The 314-page document is based on interviews with 12,000 books buyers over the age of 18. The survey breaks interviewees into three groups -- 18 to 34, 35 to 49, and 50 and over. Starting in 1982, baby boomers entered that second group and will continue to dominate its statistics through 1990. The total number of Americans in the 35-49 group in those years will rise from 39 million to about 52 million.

According to Gallup, the baby-boomers are strong buyers, thanks to the great increase in college education. In 1950, 13 percent of the population had spent some time in college. By 1979, it was 31 percent. In the 35- 49 age group, 27 percent of the interviewees said they had read at least a portion of a book the previous day. This finding in a 1955 poll was 17 percent.

One interesting prediction from the Gallup people based on their findings: Because people 35 to 49 are heavy buyers of nonfiction books, this market will continue to grow at a faster rate than fiction in the immediate years ahead. Leonard Wood, publisher of the report, thinks the nonfiction categories that will do nicely include religious books, home- and-garden books, how-to books, books on money, and dictionaries. Wood also opines that science fiction may not do as well because its primary appeal is among younger readers.

Some other facts from the report:

Twenty-eight percent of Americans visit a public library at least once a month. Four of five Americans have checked out a hardback book from a library at least once in their lives.

In statistics gathered during the summer, when school is out, six out of 10 teenagers said they had read a book the previous day. Twenty-five percent said they had spent more than an hour reading a book. The number who spent more than an hour watching TV was 86 percent.

Those who reported buying a book in the last seven days remained at about 20 percent from 1983 through 1985.

Fifty-eight percent of books purchased in 1984 were by women.

The Gallup report is aimed at publishers and bookstore owners. but it is also available to the public at $75 through the organization in Princeton. The Kingfish Lives

The year 1985 marked the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Huey Long, senior senator from Louisiana. Henry M. Christman and his publisher, Schocken Books, hoped to have a selection of Long's speeches ready to mark the year of his death, but didn't quite make it. But Kingfish to America: Share Our Wealth will see the light of day later this month.

Christman is an old hand at doing selections of works of public figures. Among other volumes, he edited The Public Papers of Chief Justice Earl Warren (Simon and Schuster, 1959), The Mind and Spirit of John Peter Altgeld (University of Illinois Press, 1969), and Walter P. Reuther: Selected Papers (Macmillan, 1961), as well as four anthologies of selections from The Nation magazine, including One Hundred Years of the Nation (Macmillan, 1965).

The 145-page book contains 11 of Long's speeches with such catchy titles as "Carry Out the Command of the Lord," "Every Man a King" and "Our Plundering Government." In his introduction, Christman takes up the cudgels for Long in his battles with President Franklin D. Roosevelt. He says this position has gotten him in hot water with a lot of his liberal friends in New York, where he is a local political activist.

"The reactions were vitriolic," says Christman. "If they weren't furious, they were amazed that I would be interested in someone like Long, that he had something to say that was worth reprinting. Long was far from being a saint or an angel, but he was running against an entrenched, reactionary machine in Louisana. When he got power, there were free textbooks, university expansion, new roads, new hospitals. None of that would have been done if he hadn't won.

"Of course there is a terrific biography of him -- Huey Long by T. Harry Williams -- that won a Pulitzer Prize. Everyone thought it was going to be negative, but it wasn't. Long emerges as quite a remarkable man. He raised issues so provocatively that they could not be ignored. There's no one like that in the Senate today." In the Margin

Prediction: There is going to be a resurgence of collected editions of popular authors, just like those sets of Sir Walter Scott, Nathaniel Hawthorne and James Fenimore Cooper that you see in old bookstores. A case in point: There is now a company called The Bibliophile Library dedicated to exactly this purpose. Its first project is a 20-volume leatherbound set of the works of Elie Wiesel, beginning with The Jews of Silence. The volumes will cost $49.95 each.

Washington's Farragut Publishing Company is proud of The Pasta Salad Book by local authors Nina Graybill and Maxine Rapoport. It reports that the book sold 7,104 copies in D.C. and the suburbs in 1985, bringing the total sales of the volume (published in November 1984) to over 17,000. Farragut has a right to be proud. Any national company would be happy with sales figures like that for most of its cookbooks.

Greenwood Press in Connecticut is producing an interesting series of reference books on figures in popular culture. The 10th book in the series, on Elvis Presley, came out late last year. The 11th, on Joe DiMaggio, is just out. The series is edited by M. Thomas Inge, Blackwell Professor of Humanities at Randolph-Macon College in Ashland, Virginia. Each volume contains a biography of the figure, an assessment of his or her impact, a survey of bibliographical materials and other information. Other figures covered so far include Billy the Kid, Charlie Chaplin, Davy Crockett, W.C. Fields, Errol Flynn, John Henry, Knute Rockne, Will Rogers and Hank Williams. Judith M. Riggin of Northern Virginia Community College is doing the upcoming volume on John Wayne.