Today Reading is Fundamental, the nation’s largest children’s literacy nonprofit, celebrates its 45th anniversary with a party and story time for public school students at the Library of Congress. At 1:30 p.m., a live Web cast of the event is planned.

It would all be very celebratory if it weren’t for the fact that 2011 isn’t shaping up to be a healthy year for the group. Federal budget cuts of $25 million to RIF’s budget are basically gutting the organization.

Carol Rasco, RIF’s president and CEO, wrote about the disastrous situation in a commentary published in several newspapers around the country in recent days, including this one for the Detroit Free Press. Rasco and I spoke about the situation this summer and, back then, she was optimistic that Congress might swoop in to save RIF. Not so. Or, at least, not yet.

Rasco is now hoping that Congress will approve a measure to allow a number of literacy programs to compete for a pool of funds.

Founded Nov. 3, 1966, RIF has distributed 380 million free books to the nation’s neediest children. Last year, it gave 15 million books to more than four million children across the country.

The tangibles to the benefits of this service are obvious. Early learning intervention has been shown to reap major benefits for individual children, school readiness overall, and, in turn, our broader population.

There are also intangibles. As we parents debate the benefits of technology in the lives of our children, we might forget the importance of an actual book for a child. (A recent study reported that young children often spend far more time with a screen than a book.)

It’s the first books kids own, the ones they can come back to again and again to study illustrations, work out letters, memorize phrases, learn stories, sleep next to, that trigger young minds.

RIF has given that gift to the very children who wouldn’t have had the experience otherwise. So, happy birthday RIF, and a wish for many more.