St. Paul Nonprofit Books for Africa Marks 50 Millionth Book Shipped

Books for Africa — a St. Paul nonprofit founded in 1988 that is the largest shipper of donated library and textbooks to the African continent — this month will mark its 50 millionth book sent.

The final book is a children’s book, “Kofi Loves Music,” written by local author and law professor, Artika R. Tyner, that will arrive in Ghana.

With a mission to combat a “book famine” on the continent, Books for Africa collects, distributes and sends a variety of books to African students of all ages. Last year the nonprofit broke its own annual record by shipping 3.7 million books. It also has shipped over 3 million digital books.

Their donations vary from children’s books to law books, medical books and agricultural books designed for university students. Although most are written in English, the organization has worked to translate other books into French, Spanish, Somali, Swahili and Portuguese.

“It’s important that someone does this because there is such a dramatic shortage of books in schools and libraries all over Africa,” said Patrick Plonski, the executive director. “Books are key to good education.”

Some schools, universities and libraries in African countries have few books, and others have books that are 60 years outdated. Because some schools don’t have the funds to buy new books, distributing excess books from the U.S. abroad made sense, he said.

Working closely with the U.S. Agency for International Development and the Peace Corps, the nonprofit also collaborates with various schools and social service agencies in Africa.

To receive the books, recipients can request them online. Then the nonprofit sorts them and ships them out in 40-foot-long sea containers which hold about 22,000 books each. The shipping is typically paid by the recipient organization or other donors worldwide.

“What I found over the years is that the more we can tailor our deliveries to the specific needs of the recipients, the more useful the books will be, because all books are not created equal,” Plonski said. “It’s not whether the book itself is valuable, it’s if the book is delivered to the right place that oftentimes makes it valuable.”