In 1965 Lexingtonian Harriet Van Meter visited India and found long lines of people waiting for books. She was moved by what she saw, and when she returned home she started sending books to India.
The effort grew. And in 1983 what became the International Book Project, a non-profit organization, moved its office to Delaware Avenue where it collects, sorts and ships donated books to requests from around the world.
Now, a much-needed renovation of the office space has taken place, making it a cleaner, brighter and more efficient work environment. A bright yellow shipping unit sits in the middle of the space, housing the snack bar. It’s a signature touch, like the white-drip ceilings at the restaurant Pasta Garage which is down the street.
Prior to the renovation, the organization considered whether it needed a new building or simply to move. But Lisa Fryman, executive director, could see the Delaware Avenue area becoming a trendy spot, with its mix of small merchants, restaurants and professionals such as the Nomi architecture and design firms nearby.
Moving seemed like a bad idea, but IBP needed to adjust its workspace to keep up with the amount of business it does.
“Delaware is really a happening place,” said Angene Wilson, vice president of the board and a retired University of Kentucky professor.
“We were starting to ship two and three times as many books as we had in the past,” Fryman said. “The bookstore couldn’t be seen from the street.”
The building as previously configured “didn’t work real well,” she said. Although the organization has a staff of just four, it gets labor from about 1,000 volunteers.
Nomi did the design work, IBP committed to spending $850,000. The renovation was funded through its endowment and a small loan.
Bright walls will soon be covered by maps that show the worldwide areas served by IBP. Storage has been reorganized and upgraded. Removing the ceiling revealed a beautiful boom-trussed ceiling.
It’s like minimalism queen Marie Kondo took a huge broom and a ton of shine to the space. A reworked bookstore up front showcases eclectic offerings ranging from Amy Poehler’s “Yes, Please!” memoir to paperback romances.
IBP also operates a Books as Bridges program through which 1,500 students in six Kentucky counties are connected to classrooms overseas through a pen-pal exchange, cultural literacy lessons in their school and service-learning activities to benefit their partner school.
“It’s about more than just dropping off your books,” said Director of Operations Charla Hamilton. “It has an impact around the world.”
International Book Project grand re-opening
When: 11:30 a.m., March 24
Where: 1440 Delaware Ave., Lexington
Features: Comments from Glenn Blumhorst, president and CEO of the National Peace Corps Association and other city and non-profit leaders
Available: Doodles Restaurant food truck will serve a “Green Eggs and Ham” breakfast.” IBP will host a Dr. Seuss book drive and other Dr. Seuss-related activities to celebrate the organization’s book donation mission. Sav’s Chill will offer an ice cream truck.
Dr. Seuss books are used around the world to teach beginning English and are the most often-requested books by domestic and international partners.