It’s summertime and the reading is easy. Whether you’ve loaded your beach bag with paperbacks or filled your e-reader with hundreds of titles, you’ve probably got more books than you have time to read them. Which is why it might startle you that, for millions of people, simply getting access to books is still a struggle. In the interest of helping fellow readers–and decluttering your own space–here are a few ways to help.
According to UNESCO, 20 per cent of adults around the world are illiterate. That means one in every five adults can’t read to their kids, or follow street signs, or return to school to upgrade their skills in hope of getting a better job. Even more alarming? Two thirds of those illiterate adults are women. And although it’s true that access to education is a problem, having access to books plays a huge role in the success (or failure) of many schools. (Sometimes, just getting the books to their destination can be an adventure.)
On the global front, Worldwide Book Drive has donated nearly two million books to schools and charities from the US to Africa. They also sell about six per cent of the books they get to cover their operating costs. They accept books of all kinds, including textbooks, hardcovers, and library discards. Books may be in any condition, since the organization recycles damaged books to keep them out of landfills and turn them back into usable paper. And if you’re part of a college or university, Worldwide Book Drive will supply everything you need to run a book drive, including “book-drop boxes, fliers, and the cost of return shipping.”
Closer to home, access to education may not be the problem, but the forest fires in Slave Lake, Alberta, were. The new public library in Slave Lake opened in 2010 and was completely destroyed by forest fires on May 15 this year–along with 40 per cent of the town. The Government of Alberta has put out a call to help rebuild the library through donations of “new or nearly new” books (less than two years old), which will be catalogued and stored while a temporary library is built.
Natural disaster isn’t the only problem libraries face these days. With funding cuts hitting libraries even in affluent places, their buying power is diminished–and that means less choice for you. So why not donate your used books and strengthen the community resources in your area? Whether it’s the New York Public Library, the Toronto Public Library Foundation, or your local library, most accept DVDs, CDs, and VHS tapes as well. Even if the library can’t use your donation on its shelves, books are often passed on to other charities or sold to raise funds for new library purchases.
If you’re still not sure that a few used books can make a big difference, check out the story of Irwin Herman, also known as The Bookman. When he retired from his appliance repair business, Herman donated some used books to a local prison. He was so overwhelmed by the response that he began collecting and donating used books on a larger scale. Today, he drops off thousands of free books each week at places as diverse as San Diego City College and the San Diego Botanic Garden. Publishers like Reed-Elsevier and Harcourt have gotten involved, and Herman’s efforts support the Rolling Readers, a group of over 300 volunteers who read to school kids.
Those ideas should get you started in putting your used books in front of eager eyes, but there are a couple of other resources you might like. One is UNESCO’s list of book donation agencies for the English-speaking world. The other is The Children’s Book Bank, a registered charity that “provides free books and literacy support to children in low-income Toronto neighbourhoods.”
Taking the time to bundle your used books means so much more than simply clearing shelves; it can make an enormous difference in another reader’s life. And whether it’s summertime or not, the reading should always be easy.