Today’s world is home to 795 million illiterate adults and 72 million children not in school. While this statistic sounds medieval it is a reality that still exists in abundance. While the world increasingly uses communication tools like email, the Internet, and even digital libraries, millions of individuals are also being left behind.
This is where Libraries Without Borders (LWB), a five year old international nonprofit, comes in to help. LWB’s mission is to connect those in the developed world with access to books, libraries, and above all knowledge. Patrick Weil, LWB’s Chairman and founder, believes in the power of books and their ability to exercise the critical mind and facilitate democracy. The importance of being exposed to words and books becomes obvious when you try to imagine not being able to read; the knowledge held within books and words stays forever silent, exploring the Internet is impossible, and expressing your thoughts and opinions becomes immensely difficult.
Not only are books important to the mind but they also provide relief in humanitarian emergencies in which LWB plays an important role. In areas traumatized by events like 2010’s Haitian earthquake or the violence in Mali, Patrick Weil writes, “…the first priority is life, but when life is secure, what can people do if they are staying in a camp? They cannot do anything, and they can become depressed. Once life is secured, books are essential…They’re the beginning of recovery, in terms of reconnecting with the rest of the world, and feeling like a human being again.”
An innovate model, Libraries Without Borders works to facilitate relief projects with values that emphasize:
- Local partnerships: Working with local organizations and agencies ensures the usage of libraries and books, in addition to fulfilling local population needs. LWB also encourages local publishing and authorship to help give communities a voice.
- Sustainable development: As millions of new books are destroyed round the world LWB works with publishers and institutions to re-purpose these books by putting them on the shelves of under-stocked libraries in the developing world.
- Democracy and human rights: Libraries are hubs of information access and democracy. Promoting them throughout the world safeguards democracy and human rights.
- Cultural diversity: Libraries are bridges between shared histories and futures yet to be built. Libraries are venues for the construction of multicultural and tolerant societies.
These values are evident in the numerous projects LWB has participated in, including bookmobiles in Haiti, training programs for librarians from the Democratic Republic of Congo, book trunks in Mali and Senegal, hurricane relief for schools in New Orleans, school libraries in Madagascar, Kigali’s first public library, and a Media Library for Innovation and Development in Cameroon.
At its core Libraries Without Borders recognizes the immense importance of literacy, books, and that libraries make them accessible. Indeed LWB is an important force within developing countries and disaster relief efforts because once life is secure efforts must be made to not only sustain life but also allow for intellectual growth, letting words flourish and thrive.
 Flood, Alison. “Disaster Victims ‘Need Books As Well As Food.’” The Guardian. 28 November 2012.