RIP RIF: A Great Literacy Program is about to Die

by Dr. David Mandler

I had never heard of the RIF club (Reading Is Fundamental) until Mr. Newman, a librarian at the Kings Highway branch in Brooklyn who sings and reads to crowds of infants and very young children every Tuesday and Wednesday, informed the parents of the program’s demise.

That means no more monkeys jumping on the bed for free. That means no more free book every third week. The program cost too much for the Federal Government to sustain. Indeed, with a price tag of 29 million dollars a year, it must have been a no-brainer for the U.S. Congress to decide that this item in the 2013 budget would have burdened future generations of taxpayers with such a crippling mountain of debt that its presence in the budget was absolutely intolerable.

Yes, 29 million dollars. That is with a capital M! Million.

Do you know how much money that is? It could buy five Abrams tanks at $6,210,000 each. Or, at 830,000 a piece, 37 cruise missiles! And we all know how important those missiles are to our national defense. But wait! With 29 million dollars, we could also get significantly more than one tenth of a Virginia Class submarine (2.3 billion dollars each). We’re already spending more than a hundred times on our nuclear programs per year (52 billion dollars). (Source

Then again, why pick on the military? We all know that we need to have a strong military to have a strong country, don’t we?

But do we need a highly literate population as well? The statistics on literacy reveal a bleak situation nationwide. It is especially appalling in New York ( So, the highly literate and sophisticated analysts and politicians in Congress must have concluded that the RIF program has failed, and that it was time to pull the plug on a program through which a million books have been distributed for free in the past 35 years. Or, perhaps, Congress as such no longer believes that reading is fundamental.


Who needs to encourage young children and teens to go to the library? They play video games on the computers there, anyhow! Reading for pleasure? Why do that? We’ll teach kids how to read in school, right?


The basic fact that most people involved in researching literacy acquisition will tell anyone sufficiently interested in listening is that the earlier one begins to be exposed to reading (that is, first being read to and then leafing through books), the more prepared one is to pick up the necessary skills to internalize and perfect essential reading skills. Is it possible that the US Congress is unaware of this fact? Could the elimination of this budget item have been a mistake? I sincerely hope that it was just that.

But what can we do to make sure that the supply of free books does not dry up from September 1st? You can write to your member of Congress. In fact, you don’t even have to write anything other than your name and email address. Just go to and fill out the form there.

Time is short. Thousands of children in New York as well as in other states will no longer have the opportunity to get excited about picking out their next free book come September. Their parents will have to explain to them that the RIF cards they have been filling out diligently week after week, recording six books borrowed every three weeks, will now have to be thrown into the garbage.

Certainly, Mr. Newman’s music and story time groups will never be the same. No more lining up of patient parents at Mr. Newman’s table, ready to sign their toddlers’ names in for that coveted free book, while their excited toddlers go through the high quality children’s books one by one, trying to pick their next free book to take home.

29 million dollars a year.

Are we as a country prepared to say Rest in Peace Reading to the program that has been declaring with a loud voice the idea that reading is fundamental?