Diversion of the Day: 1980s Ad Council PSA on Adult Literacy

A Dailymotion user has posted one of the old 1980s Ad Council adult literacy PSAs.



For those interested, here is a little bit of the history behind this campaign:

The [Coalition for Literacy]’s media campaign was officially launched in a press conference held on 12 December 1984 in the Trustees Room of the New York Public Library. The Advertising Council (sponsors of “Smokey the Bear,” “Take a Bite Out of Crime,” and “A Mind Is A Terrible ThingToWaste”) coordinated the media campaign. They recruited the advertising agency of D’Arcy, Masius, Benton & Bowles/Worldwide as volunteers to develop the print and nonprint ads. Two advertising campaign strategies were developed—one to inform and appeal to the general public and the other to raise the awareness of the corporate sector. The theme that was chosen for the general public ads was “Volunteer Against Adult Literacy: The Only Degree You Need is a Degree of Caring.” The audience was identified as those who wanted to become volunteers to help another person learn to read. The advertising theme developed to appeal to the corporate sector [was]: “Volunteer Against Illiteracy: A Literate America is a Good Investment.” This audience is encouraged to bring corporate/private sector resources to assist national and local literacy activities.

The Advertising Council conducted studies to measure the awareness of communities about adult illiteracy before and after releasing the television and print ads. The campaign is now among the top five social awareness campaigns that the council coordinates. Within the first year of the coalition’s advertising campaign, the Ad Council indicators cite that awareness of adult illiteracy has jumped from 21 to 30 percent. The print, radio, and television media have contributed an estimated value of $20 million in advertising space and time to the coalition’s campaign.

—Jean Ellen Coleman, “ALA’s Role in Adult and Literacy Education, “Library Trends (Fall 1986) 207-17.

It’s interesting to read about the corporate messaging strategy—pretty much the same messaging we use today.

1970 issue of Harvard Educational Review a Fascinating Look Back on Adult Literacy in the U.S.

Harvard Educational Review, Summer 1970I stumbled on something this morning I thought readers of this blog may find of interest: a special issue of the Harvard Educational Review from the Summer of 1970 devoted to “Illiteracy in America.” Articles by Paulo Freire, Neil Postman (!), Frank Laubach and others. Interesting to read what some of the big thinkers in the field were writing and thinking about in those days.

Unfortunately not free unless you are a subscriber, but I know some of you are in library or university settings and might have access.

That’s a Big Pile o’ Books

War Book Drive

Source: Bentley Historical Library, University of Michigan

You Help Build It!

Source: Bentley Historical Library, University of Michigan

I’ve been fascinated with these pictures ever since I saw them on Retronaut a few weeks ago. Both were taken during a book drive at The New York Public Library in 1919 for troops serving overseas during WWI. Poking around a bit I came across a terrific article from last July posted to one of the NYPL’s blogs, by Valerie Wingfield of the NYPL’s Manuscripts and Archives Division, about the Victory Book Campaign during World War II, which included a little bit of information about the World War I book drive recorded in these photos:

During World War I, the Library also participated in a book drive known as the War Library Book Drive. A report from that period reported that the NYPL, the central collection point, looked as though the books within the Library had burst through the hugh Fifth Avenue doors, and overflowed down the curb. The 9th Regiment and the members of the Signal Corps stood nearby. John Foster Carr headed the local drive. William Butt Gamble of the Science and Technology Division of the New York Public Library handed out short pieces of string and would cry out “Tie this round your finger! Remember to bring a book.”

“The Alphabet Is an Abolitionist”

Last week I had a chance to stop by the Smithsonian American Art Museum here in Washington to take a look at their new exhibit,  The Civil War and American Art.

One of the paintings on display is Eastman Johnson’s The Lord Is My Shepherd. Completed  just a few months after the Emancipation Proclamation, it depicts an African-American man reading from a Bible.

The Lord Is My Shepherd, by Eastman Johnson.

The Lord Is My Shepherd, by Eastman Johnson. Source: Smithsonian American Art Museum

From the exhibition notes:

The Lord Is My Shepherd does not distinguish between literacy in the service of faith or of political awareness. Literacy was in its own way a declaration of independence and humanity for a people long denied both. The idea of wanting to learn—through reading, writing, talking, and being heard—was a powerful force in black communities. It embodied the concepts of determination and self-advocacy, of independent thinking and initiative. As a writer for Harper’s Weekly bluntly put it, “The alphabet is an abolitionist. If you would keep a people enslaved, refuse to teach them to read.”

The exhibition is on display at the Smithsonian American Art Museum until April 28th, and then moves on to The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York in May.