IBB is an organization founded to help increase global literacy. That sense of purpose and mission has always been part of IBB’s culture. Follow our timeline to find out more about our history.
The International Book Bank (IBB) was established in 1987 as an all-volunteer organization in a suburb of Chicago. With a mission to support the expansion of literacy in the developing world, it procured books from publishers and other sources and made them available to schools in limited income countries. Working on behalf of established book sending agencies in the US and Canada, and using a temporary warehouse, IBB packed and shipped container loads of new and used materials. Between July 1987 and January 1990, IBB consigned 43 containers, holding over 1.5 million books, for Brother’s Brother Foundation, the US Air Force, the International Book Project, Phoenix International, and the Canadian Organization for Development through Education (CODE). The very first shipment was to Jamaica. In 1989 IBB established a strong partnership with CODE and expanded its capacity by adding a professional staff. In 1990 the Peace Corps recognized IBB’s work by presenting its “Partner of Peace Award” to then executive director Rosamaria Durand.
In the following year, IBB partnered with UNESCO, CODE, and the City of Baltimore in a “Dialogue of Partners Workshop,” an international exchange of information on donated book programs, meant to “address the book famine crisis in many countries in the developing world and in the new democracies in Central and Eastern Europe.” Mayor Schmoke declared his intention to make Baltimore “the city that reads,” and proclaimed September 13-19, 1992 to be “Dialogue of Partners Week” in Baltimore.
An IBB shipment usually consisted or one or more full shipping containers, each containing from 40,000 to 1,500,000 volumes, depending on the individual item size. Containers were sent by sea freight, each with a gift-in-kind value on the order of $600,000 or more. While the books were provided free of charge, IBB needed to recover both shipping costs and the costs of our staff and warehousing facilities. These costs, on the order of $20,000 per container, were generally covered by partner organizations, either by the charitable sponsor of the receiving institution or by another NGO organization. For most of IBB’s existence CODE and World Vision Canada were its major sponsors, sending books to their literacy projects in a variety of countries in Sub-Saharan Africa. Other sponsors supported numerous shipments to Asia, Eastern Europe, South and Central America, the Middle East, and the Caribbean, and to Africa as well. We can document shipments to at least 40 countries, and probably have missed some. During its 30 year history, IBB shipped well over 30 million books in support of education and literacy in the developing world.
Beginning in 2009, however, new leadership and a reconstituted Board of Directors worked to turn things around. By July 2011 we were able to move to an efficient new warehouse, and had installed a modern cloud based inventory system. With the new system in place, receiving institutions could request specific titles from our up-to-date listing of available stock, and we could immediately locate any requested books to process them for shipping. (A 2013 inventory printout shows 1,177,868 books, of 2,339 titles, with 363,520 books on hold for tentative previous orders, and each book located in one or several of the 1,200 available racks.) Most importantly, we had added major new publisher donors, thereby greatly diversifying our inventory, and also had recruited new partners to help support our shipments. With a more efficient operation we could operate with a smaller staff. IBB was facing the future with a great degree of optimism.
Unfortunately, external conditions continued to create significant obstacles to IBB’s ability to fulfill its central mission. The global economic slowdown dried up the resources of some of our partners. In particular, CODE’s Canadian government funding was reduced and the number of shipments it could support greatly limited. CODE also began increasingly to emphasize the support of locally based publishers over the physical book donation model. Our business model was to support our warehouse operations through a modest fee assessed to each shipment. Having raised our fees as much as was feasible, and reduced our staff to a minimum, with the reduced number of shipments we could no longer recover our costs. At the same time, the explosion of information available in electronic formats created difficulties for traditional publishers, many have begun to focus their publishing efforts on electronic texts, and it became more difficult for IBB to obtain the volume of physical book donations it required. This same explosion led to a movement to provide electronic texts to developing world institutions, creating competition for the resources that had traditionally supported IBB’s work. It eventually became clear that IBB could no longer function as it had been doing.
In January of 2016, IBB’s Board of Directors voted to end its book donation program, to proceed to an orderly shutdown of its warehouse operations, and to transition once more to being an all-volunteer organization. With careful planning and an amazingly talented and hard-working staff, we were able to accelerate our shipments and to clear out our current stock and, at the same time, develop a plan to continue our basic mission by other means. In June of 2016, the board voted to take on three specific projects that we view as adding significantly to the development of global literacy while responding to the changing landscape of international development and publishing.
The three projects that we have initiated respond to important strands in the support of worldwide literacy. These strands are: strengthening indigenous publishing, expanding teacher training, and using digital tools for teaching at all levels. Described in detail elsewhere on this site, the projects are:
- Creating and making available a seminar on Intellectual Property Rights and Licensing, meant to facilitate the expansion of indigenous publishing by helping publishers navigate the red tape around book sharing and translations.
- Supporting indigenous authors, illustrators, and editors who are writing culturally relevant books for young readers, while also helping to train teachers to use these books to promote active learning and critical thinking with our
- Facilitating the dialogue about how best to use electronic media and tools in support of literacy training and higher level teaching in developing countries.
Although no longer engaged in donating physical books, IBB remains committed to the goals of increasing worldwide literacy and enhancing access to information in the developing world. We are now engaged in three projects that respond to important strands of this effort. These strands are: strengthening indigenous publishing, expanding teacher training, and using digital tools for teaching at all levels.
Books Save Lives
Together, we can continue to support the advancement of literacy and make a difference.