A Brief History of Book Access
Our work has a rich history rooted in the belief that access to books is a fundamental right for all. The early 20th century saw the advent of bookmobiles and library outreach programs, but it was during the Great Depression that the government-funded Works Progress Administration (WPA) initiated the Pack Horse Library Project, which distributed books to rural areas. This program served as a precursor to many modern book distribution initiatives.
In the 1960s, Reading is Fundamental (RIF) was established, becoming the largest children’s literacy nonprofit in the United States. RIF’s impact is significant, but it became clear that access to books is more complex and deep rooted than one organization alone can address. Programs such as Reach Out and Read, leveraging the persuasive power of pediatricians, and the remarkable Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library were created to encourage family reading and to provide children with books to keep. Little Free Libraries provide a way for individuals to become stewards on regular book gifting. However, there continues to be significant amount of Book Deserts across our country (see article), although there are some promising book programs embedded in diverse communities, such as Barbershop Books and Laundry Cares. Still, with the recent educational and social/emotional set backs from the global pandemic, our collective work is more urgent than ever.
As awareness of the many independent organizations doing this work grew as a result of Molly Ness’s pioneering work with the #EndBookDeserts podcasts, conferences, and the Coalition for Literacy Equity. Rachel Stine from Book Harvest held a series of Book Provisioning meetings in response to challenges brought against book distribution programs that served schools and summer programs due to the pandemic. The idea for this association came together in November 2022 as an offshoot of these efforts.
Researchers such as Adriana Bus, MDR Mariah Evans, Betty Hart, Susan Neumann, Todd Risley, and others have provided crucial insights into the importance of early literacy experiences and the power of book access to mitigate the effects of poverty. Research consistently supports the positive impact of book access on various aspects of individual development and academic achievement. Numerous studies have shown that increased access to books, whether in schools, libraries, or at home, fosters early literacy skills, language acquisition, and cognitive development in children. Access to a wide range of books also encourages a love for reading, promoting higher reading comprehension, vocabulary expansion, and critical thinking abilities.
Moreover, book access has been linked to improved academic performance across different subjects, as reading proficiency is often a foundational skill in learning. Additionally, book-rich environments have been found to reduce the achievement gap between socioeconomically advantaged and disadvantaged students, leveling the playing field and enhancing educational equity.
Beyond academic benefits, access to books has been associated with improved emotional intelligence, empathy, and a greater understanding of diverse perspectives and cultures. Furthermore, studies have highlighted the positive correlation between book access and mental health outcomes, with reading serving as a therapeutic and stress-reducing activity. Overall, the research consistently underscores the vital role of book access in nurturing well-rounded, educated, and empathetic individuals while fostering a lifelong love for learning and exploration.
For all these reasons, we believe that continuing book access programs throughout the United States is vital for nurturing well-rounded, educated, and empathetic individuals while promoting literacy, academic achievement, and overall personal growth. These programs are an investment in the nation's future, helping create a more knowledgeable, empathetic, and innovative society.