Libraries Without Borders has developed programs that expand access to information, education and cultural resources to high-need, often low-income communities. These initiatives focus on bridging the digital divide, a phenomenon that affects Americans across all demographics, from urban spaces to Native American reservations to rural areas.
Despite being one of the world’s richest nations, the United States stands out for the extent of its wealth inequality. It is a country riddled with deep pockets of urban and rural poverty, communities in which economic, social and civic challenges are compounded to the detriment of millions. Over the past 30 years, inequality has skyrocketed, leading to increased cost and limited access to education and healthcare, declining living standards, and increasing incarceration rates — particularly for communities of color. In some cases, people in cities across the US — from New York to Los Angeles — live in conditions comparable to post-conflict and developing societies.
We at Libraries Without Borders, an international non-profit organization, are committed to providing vulnerable communities with access to information, education and cultural resources. We recognize that expanding access to information is essential in promoting literacy and resilience, and to cultivate an informed and engaged society, in which all people are included and encouraged to fully participate.
In a world increasingly threatened by natural and human-made disasters, in which the benefits of technological advances are not extended to all, Libraries Without Borders has re-imagined the purpose and scope of libraries to advance education, promote good health, combat poverty and equip vulnerable communities with the tools and skills needed to enjoy their fundamental human rights. By identifying best practices for curating content and developing technology and training that ensures critical information gets into the hands of the people who need it most, we are transforming the library for the 21st century and beyond.
In the United States, Libraries Without Borders prioritizes specific areas of intervention that are rooted in our knowledge of the country and its people, as well as the organization’s experience working to create libraries all over the world.
These priorities include:
Providing formal and informal educational support to low-income youth in an effort to reduce disparities in academic achievement
Creating spaces where users can improve their reading, writing and computer skills. We have achieved this by partnering with libraries, schools, tutoring programs and local nonprofits to operate in housing lobbies, laundromats, and a variety of public spaces
Offering pathways for professional development to poor and vulnerable adults
Advocating for the universal right of children to access quality education. In 2015, Libraries Without Borders joined the Global Campaign for Education (GCE-US) in order to amplify its efforts to promote education as a fundamental right and urge American and international policymakers to ensure universal quality education for all
More About Our Projects
The Ideas Box: Providing low-income students in Detroit with academic support
Access to education & culture
After running a successful program in New York, the Detroit Mayor’s Office partnered with Libraries Without Borders to bring the Ideas Box to the Motor City. Once a beacon of American industrialism, Detroit currently has the highest rate of concentrated poverty in the United States, with nearly 40% of the population living below the federal poverty line. The poorest of Detroit’s residents also have significantly lower life expectancies than the poor of other cities in the United States.
Libraries Without Borders partnered with the Detroit Mayor’s Office to run an after school and supplemental learning program using the Ideas Box. With support from the Detroit Public Library, Farwell Recreation Center, Mason Academy, Clark Park, Priest Elementary School, Golightly Educational Center, and Southwest Solutions, we were able to provide low income youth in neighborhoods with the highest rates of concentrated poverty with academic support after school, on weekends and over winter break.
Libraries Without Borders conducted quantitative and qualitative assessments of the Ideas Box program in Detroit. These assessments, which consisted of interviews and surveys, found that many program participants gained short-term boosts in math test scores.
There was a high demand for the Ideas Box among local residents, which suggests a need for greater communal spaces in underserved communities throughout Detroit. For instance, programs that required pre-registration were always booked to capacity. For Noel Night, the Ideas Box welcomed over 1,000 visitors in 5 hours!
WITH SUPPORT FROM
The Ideas Box in the Bronx: Bridging the achievement gap over summer vacation
Access to education & culture
Although New York City is one of the wealthiest cities in the world, there are striking disparities across its five boroughs. For instance, in the Bronx, residents experience higher rates of poverty and unemployment, in addition to lower educational attainment and poorer health outcomes. They are also less likely to have internet access; roughly 36 percent of households and 45 percent of seniors in the Bronx lack an internet connection at home.
While the city has taken steps to address these inequalities, they persist in specific neighborhoods such as Morris Heights. Situated in the Bronx, Morris Heights sits in the nation’s poorest congressional district. Almost half the population lives below the poverty line and receives some form of public assistance. Unemployment is also twice the national average, and over 36% of households are headed by single mothers. Given these circumstances, Libraries Without Borders forged a partnership with community organizations and the local library to bring the Ideas Box to Morris Heights over the summer. Recognizing that the summer is a time when low income students experience substantial learning loss, LWB used the Ideas Box to bring educational enrichment opportunities to high need students, preventing them from facing setbacks in their academic development.
To reach young people in the places where they live and socialize, LWB offered educational programs in various locations – from public parks to busy street corners, and from laundromats to the lobbies of low income housing projects.
Through the Ideas Box, Libraries Without Borders brought a variety of educational and informative resources to members of the Morris Heights community. Children participated in interactive sessions that improved their reading and writing skills, while young adults learned computer programming and video production skills. Members of the community were invited to join the activities, and many participated in workshops, including parents.
The Ideas Boxes gave children and young adults a safe, dynamic and accessible space where they could continue learning over the summer, often improving their reading comprehension and math skills.
The Ideas Box provided workforce development tools that helped adults with professional skills.
WITH SUPPORT FROM
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