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Our History

On November 3, 1966, Margaret McNamara and a group of local teachers and school volunteers in Washington, D.C., launched a book distribution and reading motivation program called Reading Is Fundamental. From that pilot project at three elementary schools, the program quickly grew and, in just a few months, was reaching children in 60 of the city's public schools. Two years later, with a grant from the Ford Foundation, RIF created a model program and began replicating it across the country.

By 1975, the U.S. Congress had taken notice of this effective program and created the "Inexpensive Book Distribution Program" (IBDP), which provides federal matching funds to sites that qualify for RIF's national book program. With this federal support, RIF's expansion continued, and by 1977 we were serving more than 1 million children in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and U.S. territories. That total saturation continues to this day, with RIF now serving more than 4.4 million children a year. RIF has also been a model for literacy programs in Argentina and the United Kingdom.

Since that first day in 1966, RIF has given away more than 412 million new, free books to children who might not otherwise have any to call their own.

Our History