For several years, this newspaper and Operation Read gave schools and organizations in Kentucky free children's books at Christmas.
It was wonderful to see just how many people wanted to help start children on the road to literacy by donating to A Storybook Christmas. The number of books donated and the number of children seeking them grew each year.
I was reminded of that when I visited the International Book Project last week. Dozens and dozens of children's books were visible, some displayed in the organization's reduced-price bookstore and some being prepared for shipment overseas.
Children's books can always make me smile. I know they have the same effect on those who receive them.
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IBP, headquartered in Lexington, ships more than 200,000 children's books, textbooks, and other appropriate genres annually to communities and schools in South America, Asia, Africa and even schools and libraries in the U.S. that request them.
Sometimes the shipments contain boxes of only a few dozen books; sometimes they are sea containers that hold 20,000 books. It depends on the needs of the recipients.
Either way, shipping costs can be high.
With that in mind, Chassity Neckers, IBP director of development, said the non-profit organization wants to make Sept. 8 very special for those who want to give or receive books.
Sept. 8 is World Literacy Day, or International Literacy Day, proclaimed by UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. The mission is to highlight the need for ongoing efforts to help more people learn to read throughout the world. According to reports, two-thirds of all women, or one in five adults, is illiterate.
"Those books are still very much needed," Neckers said. "There are students who haven't seen one before."
To encourage literacy, IBP is hosting "Booked for 24," a one-day effort to raise $24,000 to ship 24,000 more books in 2015.
The day offers an opportunity to donate directly online at the IBP website, to make a purchase from its bookstore, or to visit area businesses that are giving a percentage of that day's profit to the non-profit, including A Cup of Commonwealth, North Lime Coffee & Donuts, Morris Book Shop, Enoteca and Wine+Market. The complete list is available at Intlbookproject.org.
You can also purchase used books at the IBP bookstore where most books are $2 or less. It is open 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Friday in the Van Meter Building, 1440 Delaware Ave.
And, finally, that evening you can attend a celebration that includes a silent auction, live music and food, at The Livery starting at 6:30 p.m.
A video will be shown, Neckers said, of one of the schools or organizations that receives the donated books. "You get to see what happens after it leaves our warehouse," she said.
At the end of September, Kristen Svarczkopf, IBP executive director, will travel to South Africa for the non-profit's first venture in a partnership with Worldreader, a non-profit started by a former Amazon executive, that provides free e-readers and e-books to children in many African nations.
Worldreader "gets Kindles at cost," Svarczkopf said, "and they have access to a huge digital library."
Each Kindle has 100 age- and culturally-appropriate books downloaded on it before it is distributed. After that, if more books are wanted they cost only 50 cents.
IBP's role in the partnership is its established partnerships with small schools throughout the developing world, she said. That network has grown since IBP was founded in 1966 in Lexington by Harriet Van Meter in the basement of her home. Since then, IBP has shipped more than 6 million books. Van Meter's work earned her a Nobel Peace Prize nomination in 1986.
While there will be a need for the paper product for many years to come, digital books and the e-readers are the future, Svarczkopf said. They cut shipping costs to Africa more than 60 percent.
Because her organization has a relationship with the community that is receiving the Kindles in September, she will travel to South Africa to make sure everyone knows how to use them and to bring parents and the community onboard during the launch.
The battery life for an e-reader is long, often requiring a charge only once a month, she said. That is a big help for areas in which electricity is spotty.
"It has the added benefit of children having access to technology," she said.
On Sept. 8 do what you can to help.