Frequently Asked Questions
On this page you can find answers to some of our most frequently asked questions. If you can't find the information you need here, you can contact us using the form at the bottom of the page.
Why is it important that people read?
We believe that reading has the power to help people change their own lives and shape their own futures. Reading and literacy are hugely important for people’s education and their outcomes throughout life – we know for example that a child born to a mother who can read is 50% more likely to survive past the age of five. Every day, we see people in the libraries that we support learning new skills, acquiring knowledge and broadening their own horizons through the wealth of information contained in books.
But we also believe in the importance of reading for pleasure – something which most of us have been fortunate enough to take for granted. There are proven benefits of reading for pleasure, such as improving social interaction and confidence, but it can also be a wonderful way to relax and even to escape what can sometimes be a harsh reality for the people in communities where we work.
How do you select the countries where you work?
We are a small organisation and it’s important that we have a clear focus to ensure we can provide the best possible support for our partners. Sadly we do not have the resources to support every country where there is need, but we are always open to reviewing our geographical focus and strategy.
The countries where we work are all in need of support – usually because of a lack of resources to support a book provision programme in libraries. We work in countries where the main language of instruction is English because most of the books we send are in English and we want to ensure that everything we send is relevant and useful. We also work in countries where we can identify a partner organisation who can support our work on the ground – as a small organisation we only have two members of staff in Africa so this means we are reliant on strong, dynamic partnerships to deliver our work.
Is literacy improving in Africa?
Yes, literacy is improving in sub-Saharan Africa. The adult literacy rate across Africa has increased by around 20% since 1985, due to a number of regional and international literacy programmes. However, there is still more to do – 38% of the adult population of Africa is still counted as illiterate so it’s important that work to support literacy and learning continues.
The reasons for high rates of illiteracy in Africa are complex and manifold. However, we know that one of the issues faced by many of the countries where we work is a lack of access to reading materials and very little resource to encourage a culture of reading. This is why the work we do to provide relevant, high-quality books and to train librarians to help people discover the value and joy of reading remains so important.
Why don’t you accept second hand books?
We have built up strong relationships with the publishing sector and we are in the very fortunate position of having a great supply of brand new books. It’s important to ensure that the books we are sending are of a high standard and will be relevant and useful to those who read them. Many of the texts we send are academic, such as legal and medical books and it is therefore important that they are up to date.
We pride ourselves on the fact that we only send new and relevant books to our partners that are carefully selected by our selection team, which is led by a qualified librarian.
Where does your money come from?
Book Aid International receives no government funding and we are entirely dependent on voluntary donations to continue our work. Just over half of our income comes from individuals, many of whom are members of our Reverse Book Club. The rest of our income comes from trusts, corporate donors, our major donor programme and community fundraising. We have a wonderful and loyal network of supporters and we simply could not continue our work to support libraries, learning and literacy in sub-Saharan Africa without them.
Why are the books you send in English?
The countries where we work all use English as a language of instruction and they are in need of high-quality books in English. However, we believe in the importance of both local publishing and reading in local languages and we support this wherever we can through the provision of small grants to purchase locally published books in local languages. Our selection team, which is led by a qualified librarian, also takes care to ensure that the books we send are as culturally relevant as possible for the libraries they reach.
Why do you donate books to libraries?
In many of the communities where we work, there are no or very few books outside of the library so the library is often the only place where people can read. The library is often the best place for people to develop their love of books and reading skills.
We do donate books to school libraries, including our Inspiring Readers programme and our School Library in a Box project and we are currently working on expanding our schools strategy to provide more books to schools in Africa. We don’t donate books to individuals as this lessens the value that each book can bring – a book in a library can be enjoyed by many readers.
As people read more e-books/access digital content, is your work still relevant?
In Africa as in the rest of the world the importance of digital content is growing and we are working to expand our work to include digital content where we can. We recently conducted a pilot project in Kenya where three Children’s Corners received tablets and e-readers, preloaded with educational content and the results were very positive. We also have a project in Uganda called Digital Futures which provides print and digital content in children’s libraries. Not only does digital content help to engage and encourage readers, it can also be very useful in helping readers who might not otherwise be able to use the library to its full potential, such as readers with special needs.
However, in many of the areas where we work, internet access and electricity provision are still major issues and digital content is not appropriate in every community. Our partners tell us the books we send are still the most valuable donation and we look forward to a future where print and digital go hand in hand to bring the written word to as many people as possible.
How do you select the right books?
At Book Aid International we pride ourselves on the selection techniques we use to ensure the books we send are relevant to our partners. Through close communication with our partners, we have a good understanding of what their needs are and our selection team, which is led by a qualified librarian, selects books accordingly and match them to partners. We have recently launched a system that allows some partners to make their own selections direct from our stock.
We also work closely with our publisher donors to request the specific books that we know our partners need. While the vast majority of the books we send are donated by publishers, we will occasionally pay a reduced price for titles that we know are in demand and which we can’t obtain through donations.
All the books we send are new because we know that our partners and the communities they serve need relevant books that are up to date. This is especially important in the fields of academic study.
We know that the books we send are highly prized by our partners, but we also know that library users can get more out of their collection when there is a trained librarian. For this reason, we facilitate training for librarians in schools, public and community libraries and we offer training for teacher-librarians in our programmes for schools. This is becoming an increasingly important aspect of our work as we seek to find new ways to ensure our beneficiaries can get the full potential out of the books we send.