According to 2019 UNESCO data, 250 million children around the world won’t learn to read despite attending school. Without access to culturally relevant, age-appropriate books in a language that they understand, millions of children face a lifetime of illiteracy and its consequences, including discrimination, inequality, poor health and low opportunity.
Enter Library For All.
It was conceived in Haiti when founder and CEO Rebecca McDonald and her husband Barry relocated from Brisbane. They were moved by images of suffering after the 2010 earthquake.
“What affected me most during those years in Haiti was seeing classrooms with hundreds of children that had no books,” Rebecca says.
As a keen reader herself, the idea for an accessible and culturally relevant library came about. Working with influencers and expert collaborators in Haiti, Australia and the USA, Library For All successfully grew into a reality.
Library For All has developed and launched a globally available and free digital library to provide books to communities where history, poverty or remoteness are everyday barriers to accessing knowledge.
“Our library serves as a uniquely curated collection of engaging content created by our in-house international publishing team, who work tirelessly to publish children’s books that are high quality, age-appropriate and culturally relevant for the communities that they serve,” Rebecca says.
“We’ve made our application freely available to anyone with any Android device through the Google Play Store and we partner with leading development organisations around the world to deploy our Spark Digital Library Kits to classrooms and communities.
“We also print and ship our curated collection as physical books to create libraries for classrooms, communities and homes wherever we are needed.”
This groundbreaking digital library initiative provides a scalable solution to the lack of accessible books in developing countries.
“To date, the e-library has reached thousands of children across Papua New Guinea, Haiti, Rwanda, Democratic Republic of Congo, Mongolia and Cambodia,” Rebecca says.
“I am more passionate than ever about the social and economic benefits of literacy education, ensuring that children and young people have the opportunity to become lifelong readers.
“These children are often trapped in a multigenerational cycle of poverty without the ability to take action. But it doesn’t have to be this way. If we can help every child currently enrolled at school in a low-literacy country to read, we can lift an estimated 171 million people out of poverty (UNESCO 2014). In turn, global poverty would reduce by 12% and individual earning capacity would increase by 10%.”
The biggest challenge that Library For All has faced is within their technology stack.
“In the first five years, our stack performed below our expectations. We then decided to start from scratch, making the brave choice to dump the old code,” Rebecca says.
“We partnered with an open-source community for a part of our stack and this freed us to invest our resources in building the other components we needed. It has made a huge difference and our technology is now stable and works very well in challenging environments.”
Another challenge they have faced is rapid growth - almost 100% in the last financial year.
“Our resource capacity always lags behind and so it has taken some very careful and well-planned project management by our amazing team to not only meet, but exceed our clients’ expectations.
Rebecca says the impact Library For All has is the driving force behind the company.
“The biggest highlight for me is always our impact. Library For All only exists to serve communities that have low literacy rates and little access to books,” Rebecca says.
“We now have 130,000 children learning to read using Library For All. It’s really rewarding to come to work each day with a wonderful group of people that are wholeheartedly focused on increasing literacy and access to books around the world.”
But as a not-for-profit organisation, funding is always scarce.
“The pool of funders that funds international education is particularly shallow,” Rebecca says.
“Limited funding has always constrained our growth.
“Over the years we have created significant IP, which we have begun to commercialise. This sustainable revenue partially funds our operation and has allowed us to grow faster and ultimately bring books to more children.”
The vision for Library For All is also clear.
“Our vision is to deliver our digital library to more than 20 million readers by 2030,” Rebecca says.
“We’ve already been able to impact 130,000 children and our reach grows every day.
“Our impact extends into other aspects of community capacity building. We employ local staff to work directly with the schools and communities to ensure that our technology is understood and its benefits realised. We pay fees to authors and illustrators to create original stories and illustrations for our library and we work with a global network of more than 350 collaborators to continually expand our collection.”
Recently, they have released Spark, a new digital library kit designed to spark the imagination of children and deliver their unique digital library to classrooms.
“Spark is delivered in a custom-designed, commercial-grade and lockable transport case. It provides 40 tablet computers (large) or 20 (small) preloaded with Library For All’s digital library application. Spark provides a secure storage solution, in-built charging for the devices and creates a secure local Wi-Fi network that can update the tablets with new content and gather useful usage data to drive classroom planning and the development of new features and content,” Rebecca says.