Can You Read This?
On a recent Saturday, the Book Industry Guild of New York held its 19th annual Softball Tournament in Central Park to support the Literacy Assistance Center (LAC). Like the past 18 years, we played softball, gave away children's books, sold raffle tickets to raise money for the LAC, and had a joyous afternoon. You should'a been there. Why bring this up?
A "little" something has been lost in our discussions of whether we prefer reading print or e-books, how people will read content in the future, etc., etc.
That "little" something is the fact that millions of Americans cannot read.
Okay, I lied; it's not a little thing. It's an enormous thing.
A few statistics:
One in four children grow up not knowing how to read.
Approximately 44 million adults cannot read well enough to fill out a job application, read a food label or read a story to a child.
In New York City, alone, there are 1.5-2 million adults that need literacy services (fewer than 60,000 receive them).
Statistics can be mind-numbing and bent every which way to suit our needs, so let's take it down to the individual level.
Imagine you're one of those children who cannot read. Aside from the wondrous things you're missing out on now, what do you think life holds for you? What do you think your chances are of becoming a job creationist?
Or, imagine you're an adult trying to do the best for your family, to give them a good life now and an opportunity for your kids to have a better life. You go to the grocery store, but you can't read the food labels to make sure your kids are getting the healthiest food. And you can't read the job application to earn more money, or the driver's license application to get one of those.
There are two pieces of good news:
Every day, incredibly courageous people step forward and make the commitment to learn how to read. Again, use your imagination and think about what that entails.
There are skilled, passionate people out there to help them.
The bad news, of course, is that there are never enough people to help them, and they never have enough resources.
This is one of the elephants in the room (it's a big room-there are many elephants) that will continue to impact what gets published, why it gets published, and IF it gets read. HOW it gets read suddenly has many more perspectives to it, eh? For example, do audio books (digital or otherwise) play a bigger role in the future? Can the hardware and software that exists now, and will in the future, be used in a way to ease the learning process?
As for the work of the Book Industry Guild of NY and the LAC, a little history is called for here. Approximately 20 years ago, Paul Stanley (who became co-chair of the guild's Softball Committee) and I had a conversation. The gist of it was Paul telling me that he thought that we (the Guild) should find a way to be involved in a charitable effort and that literacy made the most sense to him. Recognizing the spark of brilliance before me (it happens rarely), we shook hands on it, and so began the Guild's involvement. I'm not taking any credit here. For 20 years, Paul has driven this with amazing amounts of passion and energy. He has poked, prodded, cheer-led, bungeed, tobagonned, organized, cajoled ... all with the singular purpose of raising more money for the LAC so that more people could be helped.
Paul has had a lot of help from people too numerous to mention. Of course, it starts with the Guild and its leadership over 20 years. But I'm also looking at you, Steve Bedney (also softball committee co-chair and the NY Regional Sales Manager for Ecological Fibers Inc.) and Dave Dickey (Audio Production Coordinator for Pearson Education - Longman ELT and a volunteer for the guild), who talked with Paul at the same time as I did, and have been immersed from the very beginning in making this happen every year. In these 20 years, the Guild (with Paul's leadership) has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars, all of which has gone to good use through the LAC. We've given away hundreds of boxes of children's books, generously donated by publishers. And everyone has experienced an incredible amount of joy from being involved. When you work the table at the game and you see a child's eyes light up when you tell him he can just pick a book and take it home with him, you quickly get addicted to that look.
I mention all this because Paul is changing his life. I'm sure that he will, somehow, always be involved. But the baton for leadership within the Guild needs to be passed on. (Paul also recently left Courier Corp.) We wish him luck and will continue what he has started ... except for the bungee jumping, of course.
There are all kinds of ways for you to help in your community. Seek them out for the help you can give people, for the help you can give our industry (more customers!!), and for the economic benefits to our country (less services required, more people making more money). Maybe most of all, do it for yourself-you'll feel really good. This is hard to come by these days.
You can also learn more at the LAC website at www.lacnyc.org. Yes, you can make a contribution from the site, hint hint.
He is currently Production Director for Teachers College Press. Previously, he was Vice President, Global Content and Media Production for Cengage Learning. Prior to that he was Vice President of Production and Manufacturing for Oxford University Press, Pearson/Prentice Hall, Worth Publishers and HarperCollins.
In those capacities, he has been a leader in managing process and content for delivery in as many ways possible.