“READ”: A Quick Look at a Relic of the Past


Rayne Gillette, Writer

Imagine this: your elementary school class is taking their monthly visit to the school’s library. As you peruse the shelves, in search of the next humorous novel or most captivating picture book, you eventually come eye-to-eye with a Nick Cage – who is perched in a tree, cradling Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse. Though this scenario may seem outlandish, it might have been a reality for you if your school embraced stereotypical school decor – namely the “READ” posters from the 1990s. These posters have become a staple of any classroom, even with schools creating their own “READ” posters featuring staff members. Despite the popularity of these posters, it seems that the general public may not be aware of the history behind these obscure relics of the past. 

The Legacy of the notorious “READ” posters began in the 1980s, with the American Library Association centering the campaign around famous faces and their books of choice. The purpose is quite simple: showcase the merit of reading through showing children recognizable and successful faces who happen to enjoy reading. Notable posters from this collection include Salma Hayek reading Frida and Orlando Bloom reading The Lord of the Rings. According to the American Library Association, these posters were sold to schools and libraries and the campaign was non-profit.

Just as one might say this campaign was successful as it uses creative marketing for a good cause and often sparks a sweet feeling of nostalgia, one, might also argue that the campaign is a sad reflection of modern society. The success of this campaign lies in the power of celebrity. The evolution of technology has resulted in greater media consumption over time, meaning that celebrities (be it actors, influencers, etc.) have gained more coverage. The zeitgeist, for better or for worse, is now crowded with popular figures in the media, these figures having a large influence on the progression of society and trends.

Investigating this idea further, it’s interesting to see the impact of these figures when it comes to the younger generations. Newport Academy, in an article around celebrity influence, reported that a collaboration between the Today Show and aol.com discovered that 80% of teen girls compare themselves to celebrities, especially as it relates to body image. Celebrity certainly has a grasp on our ideas on ourselves and our actions, so it is no surprise that this campaign was as successful as it was.

A “READ” poster in the library is not out of place, but it is fascinating to consider the history and the purpose behind silly and ordinary objects. I encourage you to question your surroundings, you may never know what interesting fact you may come across or important reflections you may have.

Works Cited

“ALA | ALA Celebrity READ Posters.” American Library Association, American Library Association, 2009,            https://www.ala.org/ala/pio/mediarelationsa/factsheets/alacelebrity.htm. Accessed 3 February 2023.

Newport Academy. “How Celebrities Influence Teens and Why it Matters.” Newport Academy, Newport Academy, 28 August 2022, https://www.newportacademy.com/resources/empowering-teens/celebrities-influence/. Accessed 3 February 2023.