UCLA Spotlight


Natalie Cole, California Center for the Book

  • By Wendy Soderburg, Reed Hutchinson
  • Published Jun 1, 2004 8:20 AM

Don’t let Natalie Cole’s soft-spoken demeanor and charming British accent fool you — the woman is a full-fledged activist.

An activist for reading, that is.

Cole is director of the California Center for the Book, housed in the Department of Information Studies, Graduate School of Education & Information Studies. The center is part of the nationwide Center for the Book network — created by the Library of Congress — that develops programming and resources for libraries and schools.

“There is a center in each state, and they’re quite different from each other, but we all promote the same thing: books and reading,” Cole said.

The California center, which has been located at UCLA since January 2000, provides a full range of outreach programs for both children and adults in school and public libraries throughout the state. In one of the most popular programs, libraries are given all the materials they need to host a book discussion, including books, discussion questions and promotional materials; when the libraries are done, they simply mail the books back.

Two other programs, Letters About Literature (for grades 4-12) and Writer to Writer (for adult learners), invite participants to write a letter to an author who has inspired them to look differently at the world. Winners are chosen from among the letter writers to receive a cash prize and a free trip to the “Books Change Lives” awards ceremony in Sacramento.

“It’s a wonderful contest,” Cole said proudly. “The letters really do reaffirm the value and the importance and the joy of reading.”

Working closely with people and developing partnerships is a favorite part of the job for Cole, who meets each day with librarians, literacy providers and funders such as the California State Library. “That’s our main source of support, although we do appeal for donations and apply for grants from other agencies,” Cole said. “And obviously, we get a lot of support from UCLA.”

Cole has always seemed destined to work with books. Born and raised in Cheltenham, England, she was 16 when she got her first job shelving books in the Gloucestershire County Council public library.

She received her master’s (1994) and Ph.D. (1998) degrees in librarianship from the University of Sheffield, where she met her husband, Jonathan Furner, a fellow library studies student. They moved to California in 1998 when Furner got a job as an assistant professor in UCLA’s Department of Information Studies. Cole became acting director of the California Center for the Book in 1999 and director in 2002.

The two live in Park La Brea, “which is in a great walking neighborhood, with so many cafés and shops,” Cole said. “And we can see the Hollywood sign from our place, which we thought was very cool when we got here. Our visitors always like that.”