In 2014, librarian and historian John Y. Cole marked 50 years of U.S government service. As a U.S. Army second lieutenant, he was chief of the library branch of the U.S. Army Intelligence School from 1964 to 1966. Since 1966 he has served the Library of Congress in several important capacities and special assignments.

He was the founding director of the Center for the Book in the Library of Congress, which was created by law in 1977 under the leadership of Librarian of Congress Daniel J. Boorstin. He also is the first chair of the Library of Congress Literacy Awards, established in 2013 by Librarian of Congress James H. Billington.

He is recognized as the leading historian of the Library of Congress, and in 2016 became the first Library of Congress Historian. In a 2011 festschrift published by the Library and the University of Texas Press, The Library of Congress and the Center for the Book: Historical Essays in Honor of John Y. Cole, editor Mary Niles Maack noted that through Cole’s several books and more than 400 articles and related publications, one can trace the Library’s history from the Continental Congress to the digital age.

Cole is a tireless promoter of books, reading, literacy and of the Library of Congress. He has been instrumental in shaping many significant programs of national significance, particularly the Center for the Book, a catalytic public-private partnership that promotes books, reading and literacy and which includes official affiliates in 50 states and the Virgin Islands. In 2013 the Library of Congress transferred its Poetry and Literature Center, the home of the U.S. Poet Laureate, to the Center for the Book.

Other programs include Letters About Literature, a popular reading and writing contest for grades 4-12, which Cole developed with consultant Catherine Gourley (1992); the Library’s monthly Books & Beyond author series (1996); the Library of Congress bicentennial celebration in 2000, which Cole co-chaired; the National Book Festival (2001), the National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature (2008), the Library of Congress Young Readers Center (2009) and the Library of Congress Literacy Awards, initiated and funded in 2013 by philanthropist David Rubenstein.

Cole has served as a corresponding member and consultant to the Literacy and Reading Section of the International Federation of Library Associations (IFLA) since he was section chair in 1997-2001. He advised the National Library of South Africa about the creation of its Centre for the Book (1998) and the Pushkin Library Foundation in Moscow regarding the establishment of its network of more than 30 Regional Centers for Reading.

To honor Cole’s distinguished service to the profession of librarianship, in 2000 the American Library Association presented him with its prestigious Lippincott Award. In 2003, U.S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins dedicated his poem “Voyage” to Cole, an honor instigated by the coordinators of the state centers for the book, a network built by Cole between 1984 and 2002. This surprise gift, which marked his 25th anniversary as Center for the Book director, was published as an illustrated children’s book in 2014 by Bunker Hill Publishing.

Cole is a graduate of the University of Washington (B.A. in history, 1962, master’s in Librarianship, 1963); Johns Hopkins University (master’s in Liberal Arts, 1966) and George Washington University (Ph.D. in American Civilization, 1971). His principal books include: For Congress and the Nation: A Chronological History of the Library of Congress (1978); Jefferson’s Legacy: A Brief History of the Library of Congress (1993); On These Walls: Inscriptions and Quotations in the Buildings of the Library of Congress (1995, revised edition 2008); The Library of Congress: The Art and Architecture of the Thomas Jefferson Building, edited with Henry Hope Reed (1997); and the Encyclopedia of the Library of Congress: For Congress, the Nation, and the World, edited with Jane Aikin (2004).