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Kilili: ‘Let’s Read!’ hits 50,000th book

(Office of the CNMI Congressional Delegate) — “Book number 50,000 is on its way to the Marianas,” U.S. Congressman Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan has revealed. Sablan was delivering 35 boxes — about 850 books — to the Joeten-Kiyu Public Library on Thursday afternoon, when he made the announcement.

Sablan and the congressional staff in Washington, D.C. have been selecting books from the Library of Congress for readers in the Marianas for the last nine years. “We call it our ‘Let’s Read!’ project,” Sablan said. “We all pitch in, hand-picking books; and I just learned that our summer intern, Michael Ortizo, was the one who actually got us across the 50,000 mark on his final day in the office last week. That book is in shipment now.”

Since starting the “Let’s Read!” project during his first term in office, Kilili has donated reading material to every public school on Saipan, Tinian and Rota. Public libraries, the Center for Independent Living, the Northern Marianas Trades Institute, the Department of Corrections, dialysis centers, and youth and senior centers have all received books courtesy of the Library of Congress and Congressman Sablan.

“We do not yet know where book number 50,000 will be going,” said Kilili. “But we have book drops planned for Tanapag Middle School, William S. Reyes Elementary School, the Kagman Community Health Center, and the Tinian Teen Center in the next few weeks.”

Congressman Sablan gets many of his ideas for legislative work and other projects directly from listening to constituents. “When I first started work in Congress, a teacher asked me if there would be a way for the federal government to help us put more books into our libraries. It took a couple of months before I discovered, down in the basement of the Madison building of the Library of Congress, where all the extra books go,” he said. 

The Library of Congress receives as many as five copies of newly published books; and even the world’s largest library does not always have room for multiple copies.

“There were all those brand-new books, thousands of books, free for the taking,” Kilili remembers. “All we had to do was go through them to find books we thought would be useful to readers in the Marianas. Nine years later, we have selected 50,000.”

U.S. Congressman Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan presented 35 boxes, filled with 850 books, to Joeten-Kiyu Public Library Director Erlinda Naputi, library staff, and patrons Thursday afternoon.  Office of the CNMI Congressional Delegate photoU.S. Congressman Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan presented 35 boxes, filled with 850 books, to Joeten-Kiyu Public Library Director Erlinda Naputi, library staff, and patrons Thursday afternoon. Office of the CNMI Congressional Delegate photo

Sablan says that inspiring a culture of reading is central to his commitment to education. He first fell in love with books as a third-grader. “I found a copy of Nancy Drew: Secret of the Old Clock,” said Kilili. “And I have been hooked on mysteries and thrillers ever since.

“But books are more than just entertainment. They open our minds to ideas, places, people that we might never encounter in our own lives. Books can change who we are. I want everyone to have that exciting opportunity.”

Money for libraries

In addition to the ongoing “Let’s Read!” project, Sablan supports libraries as a Member of Congress by making funding for the Library Services Technology Act one of his regular annual appropriations requests. The Library Services Technology Act is the only federal program that helps libraries go beyond their traditional role promoting literacy. The Act also helps libraries provide free public access to computers and the Internet, skills and career training, and reach underserved children through story time and summer reading programs.

Sablan is not alone in recognizing the importance of libraries. For fiscal year 2019, together with 135 of his colleagues he requested a total of $187.6 million be appropriated for library programs.

In 2010, before Congress banned earmarks, Sablan won a special appropriation of $200,000 for roof repairs and renovations of Joeten-Kiyu Public Library. He also got $100,000 in congressionally directed funding, as earmarks were officially called, for the Public School School System to buy books for school libraries.

Sablan earmarked another $250,000 for the Chamorro and Refaluwasch language programs at PSS. And he included $200,000 in Public Law 111-117 for books, equipment, and staff of the Northern Marianas Trades Institute.

He also pays for the cost of shipping the “Let’s Read!” books from the Library of Congress in Washington to the Marianas directly from his congressional office budget.