JLW Blog “American Ingenuity”: Celebrating Literacy Virtually

By: Julia Rosenthal

The National Book Festival is a literary festival held annually in Washington, DC. It has been organized and sponsored by the Library of Congress since its founding in 2001, and the Literacy Events Planning Committee (LEP) has been responsible for Junior League of Washington’s regular support for the event since 2003.  Like most public events in the course of the last year that were not cancelled completely, the September event was held virtually.  According to LEP Rising Chair, Lindsay Wilson, “This year’s theme was “American Ingenuity” which felt especially appropriate given all the changes we’ve experienced during the pandemic, and the creative ways Americans have continued forward. Our relationship with the Library of Congress is special and it was wonderful to continue that, especially in a year when so much has changed.”

This year’s event featured 120 authors and expanded to three days, instead of the usual single day event on a Saturday.  Pre-recorded videos of participating authors discussing their newest books were posted to the National Book Festival website and are still available to view on-demand.  The Library of Congress also offered a variety of family-friendly virtual activities and its YouTube channel, hosted over a dozen live Q&A sessions over the Festival weekend, and wrapped up the weekend with a PBS special that aired on Sunday, September 27th.  Signed bookplates were offered in place of the regular book signing lines, and there was plenty of NBF swag at the online store. Excitingly, the National Book Festival now also includes a year-round series of events (virtual this year) – National Book Festival Presents – “featuring high-caliber authors, their books, and corresponding Library treasures” as detailed on its website.

Over the course of the weekend, the LEP committee collaborated with the New Member Committee to provide social media support prior, during, and after the event with posts to JLW’s Twitter and Facebook pages. The two committees also hosted Watch Parties for the author videos and engaged in research and discussions about the authors. Emily Ancinec, Vice Chair of LEP’s Resolution Read explained, “One way we tried to keep LEP’s role consistent into this year was through our author research. Normally, we compile one-pagers for the book signing lines on the authors so our volunteers get to know who’s there (as well as potentially finding a new author they’ll love!). This year, we divided up the list of announced authors and had our members fill out a basic google form that allowed our members the opportunity to learn about who would be joining us from all over the country for this extraordinary event!”

Despite the year’s challenges, the LEP committee was able to continue serving the community by adapting to COVID-19 restrictions with some operational modifications. Every year, the committee collaborates with Washington, DC school librarians to purchase books and host a Jeopardy style contest called Battle of the Books; this year’s event was held virtually. The committee was also able to continue operating its Resolution Read program, for which books are purchased for community partners. 

Even with all the great work discussed above, the LEP committee is always looking for more ways to help the community.  The committee is excited to support the 2021 National Book Festival September 17-26, 2021, as well as other events promoting literacy throughout the Washington, DC area.