BALTIMORE, Maryland -The International Book Bank (IBB) believes, like so many do, that literacy can help shape the future. In fact, that is quite literally their motto: “Send a book. Change a life.” They are one of a myriad of nonprofit organizations that works to furnish the underprivileged with access to literature. What separates them from the others, however, is that all of the books they donate are brand new, and they are all free.
Started in 1987, IBB has shipped over 25 million books to charities all over the world. It has been active everywhere from Africa and Asia to Central and South America to Central and Eastern Europe. IBB was originally based in Chicago and was operated by an all-volunteer staff. In 1990, however, it formalized a partnership with the Canadian literacy organization CODE (the Canadian Organization for Development through Organization). From there, it moved its headquarters to Hampden, Baltimore, so as to be closer to the ports that it was shipping out of.
Another distinctive aspect of IBB, and one that makes it uniquely able to help promote education, is that it allows the recipients of the books to choose their own material in whatever quantity they need. That means that teachers halfway across the world can pick out their books beforehand and plan their lessons accordingly – a luxury that is not often available. This process is facilitated by IBB’s cloud-based inventory system and electronic catalog.
The reason that the Bank is able to offer new rather than used material is because it receives stock through donations from American book publishers. These publishers donate unsold materials in their warehouses and in return receive a tax write-off. Many of the publishers donate internationally for fear of undermining their markets in the United States.
In 2012, IBB hit a new milestone when it made its first foray into publishing its own books. The series of storybooks was released in English, French and four different African languages. Kate Joyce, the organization’s executive director, says that this initiative was so important because local-language books are often in short supply in developing nations. This in turn has a detrimental effect on the youth. As Joyce puts it, “You can’t actually learn to read in a language you don’t speak.” These stories are richly illustrated and feature themes that children in developing nations can relate to more so than those featured in many books published in the U.S.
In the future, the IBB is hoping to expand its fundraising efforts. As it stands now, the organizations that receive the shipments of books must pay for the international shipping expenses, though the merchandise itself is free. Joyce hopes that by increasing fundraising, the IBB will be able to reach out to communities that are unable to pay the expenses and those that are not being supported by an aid organization.
– Rebecca Beyer