Book Aid International: the power of partnerships

Giorgia Cerruti
Opinion - International Monday, 21st June 2021

Giorgia Cerruti reports on how the charity works with a global network of partners to distribute appropriate books to libraries, schools, universities, refugee camps and prisons round the world


My job is, in short, to connect people with books. I work with our network of over 100 NGO and library partners round the world to establish where the books that publishers donate to us here in London could have the greatest impact.

It is a brilliant job - and our charity's work is very much needed, because there are still so many people who have only a few books, or no books at all. Our partners cannot afford to buy books, so the books we provide often offer people's only opportunity to read.

What we do is much more than sending books - it's about getting the right book to the right community. And for that, you need partnerships.

Partner-led book selection
Every book we receive from publishers is logged into our stock system. That system allows us to select the most appropriate, relevant books for partners based on their communities' needs, reading ability and the content of the book, including what might be culturally inappropriate. Thanks to publishers' generosity, we can offer a huge range of books to a wide variety of partners - from picture books for children's libraries to medical and law texts for universities.

Some partners find it easy to tell us what books are right for their communities: professional librarians and teachers, for example, have the skills to assess their readers' needs and request books to match reading levels. But many of our partners aren't library services or schools. They're NGOs running schools in refugee camps, community groups maintaining informal libraries, and local charities supporting non-formal education.

These organisations know that books would benefit their communities, but they may not have the specialist skills to know what book level, content and quantity to request. We spend extra time with these partners, talking them through the different types of books that are available, providing examples and supporting them to select the books that are right for local readers.

This process ensures that whether we're providing a shipment of 40,000 books to the Ghana Library Authority or 1,000 books to a mobile library in Greece, it will be a collection specifically designed to support that partner's work and inspire the people it reaches.

The importance of publishers
The brand new books that publishers donate to us are the backbone of our work - and the fact that they are new is so important, especially for children. In Sierra Leone during the pandemic, the public libraries stayed open to provide havens for reading and learning - and I was inspired by the words of their head children's librarian, Dunstanette: "Children are always so excited to see the new books arrive from Book Aid International and to open up the pages. You know, these new books are better than secondhand books, because most times secondhand books are torn, pages are missing, or someone has already scribbled in them. The children come to the library because books are available."

We are so grateful to be supported by more than 100 UK publishers who donate hundreds of thousands of brand new books to our charity every year - but there is always more to do! We receive new book requests through our website daily, and the demand for brand new, high quality books keeps growing. We are always in need of new publishing partners to provide these life-changing books, and particularly dictionaries, thesauruses and atlases, as well as law and vocational textbooks.

I would like to thank every one of the publishers that supports our work - our partners always tell me how much they appreciate you. If you're not yet involved, I would encourage you to join us on 24 June (see below) to hear about our work with children, or contact us directly by emailing our head of operations: Harry.Boughton@bookaid.org. We would love to hear from you!

Photo: school library in Sierra Leone

Book Aid International is hosting a London Book Fair panel discussion chaired by president of the IPA Bodour Al Qasimi at 9.30am on 24 June to discuss how access to books can support children and help build a brighter future for all. To book your free spot, click here.

To find out more about the charity's work or how to donate books, visit www.bookaid.org.

Giorgia Cerruti is partnerships manager at Book Aid International.