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The Adventures of The Big Read

Posted At: February 17, 2010 2:43 PM
by Autumn Winsett

Student agency partners with Alabama libraries to promote literacy

Some University of Alabama public relations students began this semester hitting the books, but not textbooks. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain is their book of choice because they are supporting reading for pleasure and the public libraries of Alabama through theNational Endowment for the Arts’ Big Read program.

Alabama Reads is a statewide program increasing literacy in Alabama and encouraging the use of public libraries in local communities. This year, Alabama Reads is partnering with the National Endowment for the Arts and The Big Read, reading Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.

The Big Read is an initiative of the National Endowment for the Arts in partnership with the Institute of Museum and Library Services designed to revitalize the role of literature in American culture and bring the transformative power of literature into the lives of its citizens. The Big Read brings together partners across the country to encourage citizens to read for pleasure and enjoyment.

Members of Capstone Agency, UA’s student-run public relations firm, are implementing Alabama’s first statewide reading initiative in partnership with theNEA. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain was the book selected because of its popularity and small-town feel. This year also marks the 175th birthday of author Mark Twain.

Alabama Reads is the student agency’s largest client to date. The future PR professionals are gaining real-life experience with this significant reading awareness campaign. The students are responsible for the production and distribution of all materials for The Big Read: Alabama Reads project, including posters, book marks, T-shirts, “green” grocery bags, yard signs, buttons, window cling stickers, editorial media, a Web site and social media materials.

“The great thing about Alabama Reads is that whether we are affiliated with the NEAon a project or not, we can do a number of different initiatives focusing on reading in the state of Alabama so it’s got a lot of flexibility,” said Teri Henley, the campaign’s faculty advisor.

While Capstone Agency began working on the research and planning stages of this campaign last spring, the nuts-and-bolts development and implementation of the campaign didn’t begin until this semester. Caitlin Norton, senior and co-account executive of the campaign, tells how this process came together.

“I am predominately overseeing external communication, which includes planning a kick-off and wrap-up event in February and April, as well as government and university outreach,” Norton said. “The other account executive, Aly Alameddin, and I volunteered to work on this campaign last April. We spent the majority of our summer conducting research and planning what needed to be done in preparation for the upcoming fall semester. In August, we were able to obtain a team of about 15 students who have helped us come up with and put together a communication plan. Throughout the semester, Aly and I traveled to various locations across the state to present the communication plan to the Alabama Public Library System’s Public Relations Committee and the nine regional directors.”

Successful implementation of this campaign means a great deal to the students who are devoting countless hours to help Alabama’s public libraries. Learning that the purpose of NEA’s Big Read program is to develop and to promote reading and literacy impassioned the students, fueling their desire to help increase awareness of public libraries and change low literacy statistics.

As Norton explained, one of the students’ goals is to present the public with new knowledge about public libraries. “The reason I love getting to work on this campaign is because it is all about promoting public libraries and literacy in the state of Alabama,” Norton said. “Reading is a passion of mine, and any spare minute I have I love to use it reading a good book. I want to share that passion with the residents of Alabama by showing them that reading is fun, but also that their public libraries have so many incredible services to offer. Not very many people are aware of all the different services that are offered in their local library. Libraries have so much more to offer besides checking out books.”

The campaign launched with a kick-off event in Montgomery on the State House steps Tuesday, Feb. 2. Approximately 185 people showed up to support the campaign. Lt. Governor Jeff Folsom read the prologue of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain. State Representative Greg Canfield read an official proclamation declaring the months of February, March and April as Alabama Reads months in the state of Alabama in conjunction with The Big Read: Alabama Reads initiative.

The success of the kick-off event gives hope to Capstone Agency that the rest of the campaign will be equally successful. There will be many more events across the state in each of the nine Alabama Reads regions. Pat Ryan, Jefferson County Library Cooperative director, said, “Everybody statewide is so excited. Students, libraries and communities can’t wait for their local kick-off events if they haven’t had one already.”

“The Capstone Agency has done a superb job, and we couldn’t have had this statewide campaign without them,” said Ryan.

Throughout the rest of the campaign, the students will track media coverage and help the different regional coordinators with media pitches, events and social media. To learn more about the Big Read: Alabama Reads campaign visit

Have you ever participated in a public relations campaign implemented by students?

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