1) First up, can you tell us why you believe Book Aid is such a great cause to support?
Seeing the delight on the face of a child opening the first book they’ve ever seen is enough to make most people want to support Book Aid International.
Book Aid International changes lives and societies by enabling millions of people to read books they might otherwise never have a chance to see. The books we provide range from early learning to vocational, from medical science to adult fiction. We work closely with partners in Africa to select the books that most closely suit the community, school or university’s requirements.
We provide brand new, relevant books to libraries, train librarians and transform libraries in sub-Saharan Africa, helping to create community spaces that fuel development. Millions of people in Africa can only access books through libraries, and most of those libraries depend on donated books to stock their shelves. Each year we send around half a million brand new books to our partners. Without these books, many of the libraries we support would have empty shelves, and sometimes the library itself wouldn’t exist.
2) You started at Book Aid earlier this year, can you tell us about the main responsibilities of your role?
I oversee the development, monitoring and evaluation of all Book Aid International’s programmes and partnerships. I’m also reviewing our strategy to make sure we continue to make the most of the resources we have and bring the best possible service to the libraries and readers we work with.
I’m packing now for three weeks away visiting partners in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania which I’m really looking forward to. I’m having a tough time convincing some of my colleagues that it will actually be pretty hard work too! It’s up to me to make sure that we send the right books to the right places in a timely fashion, that librarians we work with are trained to entice more people to libraries and, where there isn’t a bricks and mortar library, that books are brought to people with schemes like our ‘school library in a box’. This one (right) is the “school library in a box” for Konde Primary School in Pemba, Tanzania. Many of the children on this island had never visited a library and some had never seen a story-book before Book Aid International began working with the school.
3) What do you feel are Book Aid’s key recent success stories?
Every book that is housed and read and cherished is a success. We very conservatively estimate that each book we send will be read by at least five people. Books open whole worlds to their readers – they may bring a sense of wonder to a child, a sense of possibility to a teenager, real opportunities for employment and a career to adults who access textbooks on nursing, plumbing or accountancy to name but a few.
More specifically, we have a number of projects that we are particularly proud of. In 2009 we began working with national library services in Kenya and Tanzania to develop children’s services. There are now 30 libraries across Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda with bright and welcoming children’s book corners, and there will be 36 by the end of this year. Each library receives around 1,700 children’s books from the UK and small grants to buy local books, painting materials, games and toys. Library staff have also taken part in training workshops, giving them the skills and confidence to transform their libraries.
4) How does Book Aid work with publishers?
Without the generosity of the UK publishing industry our work would not be possible. Almost all the books we send are donated by UK publishers. Over 90 publishers support us with donations of books they would otherwise pulp – excess stock, returns and office collections for the most part. We are constantly looking to increase the range and number of publishers that supply us so that we are in a stronger position to meet the reading needs of our partners.
5) In addition to donating, what other ways can BookMachine readers get involved with Book Aid?
There so many ways people can get involved. Join us on Facebook and Twitter to keep in touch and introduce our work to friends, family and colleagues. Or come to one of our events, like the talk we’re hosting on World Book Night next week with two of this years’ Man Booker Prize judges – Natalie Haynes and Robert Douglas-Fairhurst – alongside Beverley Naidoo and James Mayhew.
We are in awe of the many other wonderful things people will do to support Book Aid International, from organising ‘bake for book’ events to second hand book sales and, for the fearless among us, there’s always the London Marathon to run!
—Book Aid International increases access to books and supports literacy, education and development in sub-Saharan Africa. Last year Book Aid provided 543,280 new books to over 2,000 libraries and have sent more than 30 million books to partner libraries since 1954. Please help us support this great cause by donating here.