World of Books

St. Croix Valley–based Books for Africa continues to bring the gift of reading around the world.

Thirty years ago, Marine on St. Croix resident Tom Warth traveled to a library in Uganda and found it lacked something important: books. He came home with a mission: to get books into libraries across Africa, and Books for Africa was born.

The organization measures its impact in numbers of books shipped, and the numbers don’t lie. Three decades later, Warth’s organization has shipped 40 million books to Africa and is the largest shipper of donated books to the continent. Last year alone the organization sent 3.1 million books to 18 African countries, as well as 93 computers and e-readers containing thousands more books.
Patrick Plonski, Books for Africa’s executive director, says the organization sends mainly gently used books, all donated by businesses or individuals, or obtained through partnerships with used-book distributors. The organization sends English texts, but also has a distributor in France (French being one of the prime languages of many African countries) and is working on doing some prints in other languages on its own.

Last October, Plonski, a member of the International Friends of the Alexandria Library in Egypt, brought a Little Free Library to one of the most well-known libraries in the world. The library was a gift from Books for Africa, celebrating the 20th anniversary of the Egyptian group. The Little Free Library, which now has a proud place in Egypt, is filled solely with Minnesota Book Award winners or finalists. It’s a charming testament to the great work Books for Africa has done for libraries across the continent. Anyone can help the organization by donating funds, books or time spent packing boxes.