By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson
Tweed: ‘To Provide Comfort and Escape to Ukrainians’While in so many instances, the United Kingdom-based Book Aid International is thought of as a book charity dedicated to work in Africa and elsewhere in the Global South, today’s news (August 8) is that the nonprofit organization has partnered with PEN Ukraine, English PEN, and PEN International to create a donation of some 25,000 publisher-donated new books to libraries in wartorn Ukraine.
The shipment is expected to reach Kyiv by September, and the books are to be distributed across the country through the Unbreakable Ukrainian Libraries effort, a program opened in June 2022 by PEN Ukraine.
The books are to travel overland from Book Aid International’s South London warehouse to a central depot in the Ukrainian capital, and from there to libraries, through the efforts of PEN Ukraine in partnership with the New Post Company.
As is customary for efforts from the world book industry, Book Aid International’s shipment will be made up primarily of children’s books. We’re told that there are also “classics, art and leisure books, and English as a foreign language texts [EFL].” Books are being selected in coordination with PEN Ukraine’s requests.
As Publishing Perspectives readers know, the international book industry’s profound generosity has tended to be overwhelmingly focused on children’s books. Perhaps at some point, more literature and current nonfiction may be provided to the adults who work to safeguard those children on the ground amid the war’s chaos and displacement, both in-country and in refuge abroad.
In its media messaging today, Book Aid says that more than 570 library facilities are known to have been hit by Russian bombardments, and have lost all or parts of their collections. The Unbreakable Ukrainian Libraries effort is reported to have placed books in English and Ukrainian into libraries in Chernihiv, Mykolaiv, Kherson, Sumy, Dnipro, Kharkiv, and Donetsk.
Newton: ‘An Incredibly Important Book Donation’
As in Book Aid’s customary programming, books provided to international beneficiaries are donated to the cause by publishers in the United Kingdom. In this case, those publishers include Bloomsbury.
The house’s Nigel Newton is, in fact, president of Book Aid International. And in a prepared comment, he’s quoted as saying, “This is an incredibly important book donation which will create access to books for Ukrainians who have been through unimaginable challenges since the Russian invasion.
“I’m urging more publishers to get behind this shipment however they can–whether by donating books, funds or spreading the word.” Bloomsbury, we’re told, has also
Publishers interested in contributing books to the September shipment are asked to contact Mark Simpson at Mark.Simpson@bookaid.org. Publishing Perspectives has asked for a list of the publishers contributing to this effort. As the shipment is finalized next month, we’re told, that roster can be made available (minus any who might prefer to donate anonymously), and we hope to be able to report it then.
We’re also told that Oxford University Press has made a financial contribution toward shipping costs.
As the staff at Book Aid notes, libraries are used in Ukraine as community hubs as well as knowledge centers–sometimes as bomb shelters, and as places “of connection with the outside world” and its solidarity with Ukraine under siege.
Teren: ‘Acquiring New English Books is Challenging’
In a comment, Tetyana Teren, PEN Ukraine’s executive director, says, “The use of English language is today a significant part of daily communication in Ukraine. More and more people use it daily for work, leisure, or learn it from scratch.”
She cites the report from the Education First English Proficiency Index (PDF, Page 4) for its finding that in 2022 Ukraine was ranked as the world’s 35th country or region in English proficiency.
Having raised its position from No. 40 a year earlier, Teren says, “This means that the English language is being integrated into Ukraine’s educational and cultural processes, and as a result, there are plenty of opportunities for international partnerships and projects. Unfortunately, acquiring new English books is challenging in present-day Ukraine. Hence, our objective is to assist libraries in fulfilling readers’ aspirations to learn, improve, and practice English.
“Jointly with Book Aid International, PEN International, and English PEN our initiative aims to make English books accessible in libraries all around Ukraine.”
Book Aid CEO Alison Tweed says, “When PEN Ukraine reached out to Book Aid international at the London Book Fair this year, we knew we had to support this very important and courageous initiative to donate books to libraries across Ukraine and give readers access to books in English.
“We hope that these books will provide comfort and escape to Ukrainians who are facing the realities of war, particularly to so many children whose lives have been overturned and hugely impacted by the war.
“We warmly thank all our book donors and financial supporters for making this book donation possible.”
Our coverage of the Russian war’s impact on Ukraine’s publishing industry is here, along with international reactions. More from Publishing Perspectives on Book Aid International is here, more on children’s books is here, and more on charitable efforts in world publishing is here.