As I look back over the year since Books2All became a registered charity, I scarcely feel the need to mention that a lot has changed since then.
While it’s true that I founded Books2All from an opportunity that presented itself during the first lockdown of 2020 (more on that shortly), I certainly didn’t anticipate that educational inequality would be illuminated in such a spectacular way by COVID-19. The news coverage of the global pandemic has been relentless, and, among many other things, the media has flagged up the impact on children’s education as a cause for concern.
Founding Books2All has given me astounding insights into children’s literacy challenges in many situations.
Gratitude spurned me on to create Books2All
Like thousands of other students last summer, I had found myself revising for my finals from the confines of my childhood bedroom. It’s hard to name the precise moment the idea came to mind, but there was something about being unexpectedly away from university and once again surrounded by the books of my childhood and adolescence. I was intensely aware of the impact those books had on my own development and how they had helped me progress. It made me feel incredibly grateful for the opportunities I had been given and equally mindful that many are not afforded the same chances.
Add to this the constant reminders of how the coronavirus was decimating pupil and student life, and I was almost overwhelmed by the need to do something. Buoyed by feeling so fortunate, I started to look at ways to donate my no longer wanted books to schools that might need them. I knew that getting sought-after books to schools would mean they would find their way to the children who need them most for years to come. (If you give a book to a student, it benefits them, but many students will benefit if you give a book to a school.)
Depending on how you look at it, I was lucky to find out quickly that no such mechanism existed. Schools receive book donations, but it is often a case of them taking what they get and then deciding what to do with them. Not only is this time consuming for staff who then have to find new homes for books they do not need, it is also a sad waste of donors’ time. It seemed to me that technology could provide a better alternative. Maybe, I pondered, I could set up an app-based repository of donated books from which schools choose the ones they like. The Books2All concept was born!
I gathered a bunch of willing university and other friends, and we started to create something real from my still quite hazy idea. Before long, we were a registered charity with trustees and, within a few months, volunteers with the experience needed to turn Books2All into a viable proposition began to join us.
To date, over 50 people have helped us, including people based in the US, Italy and Spain, and we currently have 35 active volunteers. We are a UK-based charity, but who knows what might happen in future…
Getting our app-based service ready to launch
The year has slipped by fast, and we are in a good position to launch our much-anticipated app during this autumn term. London is the pilot scheme and, once we have tested the service in this large area, we aim to roll it out to other parts of the country in the coming years.
But that’s not to say that we haven’t had our share of challenges. As yet, we don’t have the finances to buy in business resources such as IT, HR and marketing, so we continue to rely on our much-valued volunteers who are adept at outside the box thinking.
We knew that we needed to sound out our idea to users. With schools not fully open for several months, we have had limited access to those with the knowledge we often lacked. (We were just students!) We did thankfully get to speak to teachers about their library requirements, and they confirmed that, as I suspected, they do not always get the books they need when people donate. We hope to reduce the volume of unwanted books sent to schools and increase the quality and relevance of books received by making the donation process more efficient.
Sadly, we have also learnt that one in eight UK schools has no library. We must improve this situation. When I was a bit younger, I worked part-time in a local charity shop, so I know first hand that, although many books are sold, others are eventually thrown away. We really need to stop this! There is no shortage of books available – they are sitting, no longer used, on bookshelves and in attics in homes everywhere. We just need to dust them off and give them a new lease of life by getting them to the children who need to use them next!
Books2All has grown out of an event like no other
COVID has highlighted in a way that nothing else could the varying domestic circumstances in which children are required to learn. Of course, we were all already aware of the effects of economic and social deprivation on children’s education – and their lives generally. But I can’t think of a time before COVID when we gave such serious consideration to the physical setting in which children learn when at home.
Suddenly it wasn’t 30 pupils in a class with the same resources; it was 30 pupils in different homes with varying resources and surroundings. We became aware of children sharing a desk with another sibling in a small bedroom, completing their schoolwork at the kitchen table in a noisy house, or competing with their parents for logging on time in areas of poor Wi-Fi.
It seemed to me that no sooner had I thought about educational inequality than the definition irrevocably widened to include the variability of learning resources available to children at home. Plus the disparity between those who can and cannot work remotely if their children need to be home-schooled at short notice, and the family pressures that can adversely affect children’s schooling.
In reality, it was always the case, but now there is no question that educational inequality is caused by more than economics. All children, regardless of social class, face barriers to their education.
Insights into the benefits of reading also came to the fore throughout the pandemic. As well as the educational benefits of reading, such as knowledge, communication skills and confidence, there is also a reduction in feelings of loneliness. It was heartening to learn that more children were reading to combat the isolation felt while away from their peers, although perhaps not surprisingly, this benefit was not enjoyed by the most disadvantaged.
Aside from covering the effects of the pandemic on the learning environment, our weekly blog gives us a regular opportunity to hear from a wide range of people who work tirelessly to improve educational opportunities. We have had the pleasure to publish blogs from people at the coalface of classroom education, as well as librarians, publishers, authors and others who seek to promote literacy.
In the years to come, not only do we intend to use Books2All nationwide to connect book donors to schools in need, we envision this to be the start of using a more technology-based approach in the charity sector.
I am delighted that what was once my whim is now so close to fruition. I am truly grateful to all who believe in Books2All and have helped us get to this exciting stage. If you haven’t already, please read through our blogs, follow us on social media and continue to support us in our mission to get books to the children who need them by revolutionising the book donation process.
Thank you for visiting our blog. Our vision here at Books2All is a world where every child finds the books that help them reach their true potential. If you have spare books in good condition at home that you think might be appropriate for school children, please sign up for our app’s pre-release waiting list. If you represent a school, please register to receive books for your students.