Global literacy rates have risen in recent years, with adult literacy at 84.1 percent and the youth rate at 89.5 percent. Roughly 896.7 million people cannot read or write. Two-thirds of these people are female, and a majority live in sub-Saharan Africa and southwest Asia. Reading and writing skills are valuable for continuing education and defeating poverty, thus making global book distribution organizations invaluable.
Room to Read’s website shares the chilling statistic: “A child born to a literate mother is twice as likely to survive past age five.” In order to improve global education and literacy, a plethora of organizations have emerged to provide books to disadvantaged areas. These global book distribution organizations are all working to raise literacy with unique approaches to best serve their target community.
1. Book Bus
The Book Bus was started by publisher Tom Mascher in 2008. The program began in Zambia but has since grown to Malawi and Ecuador. It emphasizes providing relevant books to both the age and reading level of its recipient. It delivers books and directly teaches children as well. Mobility is a huge asset to this program; because literacy rates are lowest in remote areas, the Book Bus can travel to disadvantaged communities and schools.
2. International Book Bank
This organization is more academic than many of the other global book distribution organizations. The International Book Bank supplies large quantities of new, single title books for classroom use to improve global education. Since its first shipment to Jamaica three decades ago, it has sent books for every age group all over the world. By allowing communities to choose the books they need, and providing enough copies for the entire class, the International Book Bank ensures that schools have the appropriate resources.
3. Book Aid International
Book Aid International has been around since Lady Ranfurly set up a library in the Bahamas in 1954. She continued the program in the U.K., where it grew to send books to more countries. Currently, Book Aid International provides books for education establishments, refugee camps, prisons and libraries in Palestinian territories and twelve African countries. For nomadic people, the organization has built mobile libraries. It has reading materials and spaces that can be transported via truck, camel or horseback.
4. Room to Read
In 2000, Room to Read began delivering donated books to rural Nepalese communities. Over the last 16 years, the program has expanded to building schools and libraries, training teachers, and supporting girls’ education. It works in eight countries and publishs books in local languages. In 2012 alone, Room to Read’s libraries supplied 9.7 million books.
5. International Book Project
The International Book Project is based in Lexington, KY and ships all over the world. It sends boxes of books any size between small shipments and sea containers that can supply an entire school district. In 2007, it launched a unique program called “Books as Bridges” where schools in Kentucky are paired with schools overseas. Students exchange letters, packages and books to improve both writing skills and cultural awareness. The last school year had 50 participating classrooms from seven countries, with a total of 2,694 students.
6. African Library Project
The African Library Project ships American books to Africa. It matches communities on either end through a substantial network of organizations. U.S. institutions then gather books and funds to start a library. They emphasize sustainability by recycling used books and supporting the new libraries abroad. To accomplish this, libraries are built in places where the community has the manpower, space and enthusiasm to start a library and receives regular check-ups by African partners. This project has started 1,825 libraries in 12 countries.
7. World Literacy Foundation
The World Literacy Foundation has been focused on book distribution since their founding in 1996. Recently, it has increased digital learning as people have more access to technology. On the website, its noble vision is stated simply: “We envision a world in which every one of us can read and write, in which there is free access to education for all.”
While there is still much to be done, these seven global book distribution organizations are making massive impacts on global education.
– Jeanette I. Burke