I became aware of the fabulous work done by Library for All, through Dr Lara Cain Gray, who is their Senior Research Librarian and someone I admire very much. I have been so incredibly impressed by the work of this not for profit organisation and I’ve asked Lara to tell us all the work they do. Thank you Lara!
Can you imagine a world without books? If you’re reading this blog, I’m guessing you’d rather not even go there! But that’s the reality for children around the world who live in communities where history, poverty or remoteness prevents access to reading material. UNESCO figures tell us that right now around 317 million children globally are not reaching minimum reading proficiency levels, despite attending school. After all, how do you learn to read if you don’t have any books?
Library For All is an Australian non-profit organisation addressing this challenge by providing books. But not just any books; unique books written by and for these communities, delivered via an innovative digital library app.
Free kids’ books where they’re needed most
Library For All’s CEO is Rebecca McDonald, a Brisbane business woman whose life changed when she was moved by the horrific images of the Haitian earthquake in 2010. She and her husband packed up and left to see what they could do to help. Whilst working over there, she discovered that in times of crisis, or in communities with long term poverty, there are obvious financial limitations to expenditure on books. But, even if print books are kindly donated, there are a whole lot of logistical problems: where to store them; how to distribute them; how to find books in the right languages that reflect appropriate cultural diversity; how to prevent them being lost, damaged or stolen.
And yet many people in these challenging environments still have mobile phones.
The world has changed. Owning an electronic device is no longer a sign of affluence. 7.3 billion mobile subscriptions exist globally, including across the developing world. Children are statistically more likely to have access to a mobile phone than clean drinking water.
So, what if there was a high quality, curated library of culturally-diverse children’s books, available to anyone with a smart phone via a free app? That’s truly a library for ALL.
Every child has the right to read
From its beginnings in Haiti, Library For All is now based in Brisbane. The first large scale Asia-Pacific program pilot rolled out in Papua New Guinea during 2018 to great praise from families, teachers and funding partners. Feedback from kids suggests they’re loving the chance to read books set in familiar landscapes, with characters that look like them, and animals they recognise.
Kids flourish in a reading environment that includes both ‘mirrors’ and ‘windows’; that is, books that reflect a child’s own lived experiences and others that invite the child to learn about the wider world. For kids in the developing world, the vast majority of books available are ‘windows’. High quality ‘mirrors’ help improve literacy, but can also facilitate cultural pride, offer role models, or deliver relevant instruction around issues like health and hygiene.
Visit the Library for All site to download the Android app with a PNG focus to see examples of LFA books, which are now available to readers at home, school or anywhere. The iOS app is due for launch before the end of 2018.
How to build a library for all
Library For All grows its library in many different ways. For example, teams on the ground in partner communities run writers’ workshops and a submissions program inviting local writers – at all levels of experience – to submit stories. These are then edited, illustrated, digitised and shared via the app.
In other LFA locations, including around Australia and the United States, writers are invited to submit ‘culturally neutral’ stories, which are illustrated to a strategic brief that makes them respectful of diversity and widely relevant for readers around the world.
The library also includes sets of open source classics or books donated by other publishers who are happy for LFA to serve titles freely to a global readership.
If this innovative contribution to the global literacy challenge sounds exciting to you, there are plenty of ways you can get involved.
– Make a donation! Visit Library For All to make a one-off or regular contribution.
– Donate a story! LFA works with experienced, emerging and never-tried-it-before authors and illustrators to create beautiful books. Full details are available on the website, or contact firstname.lastname@example.org to express your interest.
– Go shopping! From now until 31 January 2019 BookGeek will donate $1 from every purchase to LFA’s mission. This is a fantastic way to stock up on bookish treats whilst changing the lives of children for whom the school libraries and bedroom bookshelves many of us enjoy are the stuff of fantasy.
Library For All believes every child has the right to see themselves on the page; to imagine, dream and aspire to a bright future. That future begins with making knowledge available to all, equally, by by-passing some of the traditional barriers to book distribution. Every child has the right to read!