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Celebrating the Life-Changing Power of Reading at the National Book Festival

Each Labor Day weekend, the Library of Congress promotes literacy through their National Book Festival. This one day festival is a free event in Washington, D.C., with author events, book signings, family activities, and more.

For the second year in a row, Bookshare was one of the sponsors of the festival and had a booth on the exhibition floor. As a frequent Bookshare booth staffer, I always love the opportunity to connect with our members face to face and hear the stories of how Bookshare has opened new doors to reading.

The National Book Festival was no different. We had over 600 attendees stop by our booth, many of whom had never heard of Bookshare before. We also met with teachers who use Bookshare in their classrooms, and members who used Bookshare on a daily basis and discovered a love of reading through accessible books.

The night before the festival, the Library of Congress hosted a gala, attended by authors, sponsors, and Library of Congress staffers. The author speakers that evening shared how literacy and libraries changed their lives, turning them from avid readers to avid writers.

The Power of Books

Dr. Carla Hayden, Librarian of Congress, opened the evening with a speech about the festival itself and the importance of the Library of Congress. “Those who write and illustrate books change our lives in ways both profound and everlasting,” she said.

R.O. Kwon, author of The Incendiaries, continued this theme. She spoke about how books kept her from ever feeling on the margins of society: “I knew I belonged with books…with words and with language, which were and are a part of my birthright.”

Books have the power to open new worlds for their readers, as so many Bookshare members know already. I have received messages from so many parents who tell me that Bookshare has given their children opportunities they never thought possible, from competing in Battle of the Books to choosing their own summer reading books, and even participating in schoolwide writing contests.

Words for Aspiring Writers

R.J. Palacio, author of Wonder, talked about how her parents’ love of literature inspired her to become a writer: “If you want to raise a reader, be a reader. If you want to raise a writer, be a reader.” Being surrounded by books and book lovers as a child set her on the path to enter the world of publishing, and finally, author her own book.

Richard Ford, author of The Sportswriter and Independence Day, and winner of the Library of Congress Prize for American Fiction, discussed the root of all literature: “It comes from taking life seriously enough to make it our great subject and by insisting with what we write that life’s worth our close attention… and that life’s worth living a little bit longer.”

Their words were inspiring to both the reader and writer within me, and I hope you find some inspiration in them as well. My love for books and reading are what brought me to work at Bookshare in the first place, and I hope that reading books on Bookshare will continue to inspire a new generation of readers and writers.

Amreen Ahmed is a member of Bookshare’s collection development team. She also hosts the monthly Bookshare Book Club on Twitter and Zoom.Join her for this month’s book club discussion of American Spy by Lauren Wilkinson, on Zoom, Thursday, October 3rd at 5pm PT, or join the #BKSBookClub twitter chat on October 4th at 12pm PT. Learn more about this month’s book club pick.

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