Boys, books & travel: Library nonprofit spotlights

It’s high time I gave some gab to a few of the fantastic nonprofits striving to bring literacy and libraries to different locations and populations.

As Americans we can take libraries a little for granted, even if we don’t use them frequently:  they are ubiquitous, tied to our nation’s genesis (Benjamin Franklin formed the first public lending library in 1731), and feature at least in the backgrounds of our childhood memories.

Even before I decided to become a librarian, it was difficult (shocking, even) to imagine a community in which a library did not exist.  You try it.  What does that image look like?  A little weird, a little bare — at least I think so.  As a lifelong reader, I also required some mental gymnastics to understand what it is like to dislike reading and books because, as a middle-class girl, most books were written exactly for my demographic.

The older I became, the more I realized the surprising inequity in literature topics and library access.  Fortunately, however, there are librarians, writers, and educators out there who are pooling their resources to form libraries in needy areas and reach reluctant readers.

Guys Read

Jon Scieszka, author of Knucklehead and various other juvenile and young adult books, has created the literacy program Guys Read, to reach young boys during their formative schooling years.  The program is based on the premise that “boys are having trouble reading” and provides statistics to highlight how young males are falling behind girls in reading performance, either because of their more active learning styles or the absence of boy-friendly literature.

The organization presents six goals, among them “Make some noise for boys,” “Expand our definition of reading,” and “Give boys choice.”  The website alone provides a proverbial library of book suggestions, labels for marking boy-friendly fiction and non-fiction, reading lists, authors and even resources for starting one’s own “Guys Read Field Office,” complete with a charter.

I love this program because for the most part, boys do approach reading and learning differently from girls, and our current education theories are not always adapted to their diverse learning styles.  Comprehension is a vital skill because it is inextricably linked to writing and critical thinking skills.  Without proper development in these areas, boys can fall behind in college and career preparation.  So no one is suggesting boys have to love reading, but, like pesky vegetables, it’s good for them and for their mental well-being.  Go boys, and go Guys Read!

Room to Read

This nonprofit also focuses on reading, but also brings attention to the importance of school libraries in a child’s education and brings in an international flair.  The organization focuses on a holistic approach to literacy, supporting endeavors in girls’ education, book publishing, school construction, reading and  writing and so on in Asia and Africa.  I love the energy of this organization, and in a few short years they have created some fantastic projects, including some 9 million books checked out through Room to Read-based libraries in 2010.  That is huge, my friends!

Room to Read was created by an ex-Microsoft exec who happened to be backpacking in Nepal when he chanced upon a village school.  After seeing the dire state of education in this country, he decided to lend a hand in the struggle for global literacy.  He gathered more than 3,000 books and brought them back to Nepal via donkey caravan, thus accomplishing a fledgling project on which Room to Read would eventually be modeled in countries across the globe.  It’s impossible for me to highlight the incredible breadth of initiatives this organization hosts, but take a look for yourself, and see if any opportunities to help tickle your fancy.

Librarians Without Borders (LWB)

Turns out I’m not the only one who roams!

Not a terribly far cry from its medical counterparts, Librarians Without Borders is planting libraries all around the world!  Currently they have projects in Guatemala and Ghana, and, as they state on their website, they are “a group of socially minded librarians who wanted to address the vast information resource inequity existing between different regions of the world. Our vision is to build sustainable libraries and support their custodians and advocates — librarians.”

This is truly a cool initiative, and perfect for the passionate bibliophile eager to see libraries thrive abroad.  They don’t just do it for the adventure, folks; the core of this program is definitely its patron-centeredness (though admittedly traveling would be really cool!) and their focus on the individuals they’re serving.

Their next endeavor centers around bringing libraries to Haiti, and they are in the running for a $15,000 grant from Better World Books (another awesome nonprofit which perhaps I will one day highlight).  They have a ton of opportunities, big and small, to get involved if you feel so inclined.

While I do enjoy getting silly about all things bibliotechal, literacy is in a serious state of crisis in the world, both in the U.S. and abroad.  It heartens me to know, however, that there are folks out there trying honestly and intelligently to combat the problem from all angles.  At the risk of relying on cliché, I hope you feel as inspired as I am by these initiatives, maybe enough to even lend a hand.  Reading for all!