The Uprise Books Project, Winner of the 2013 Innovations in Reading Prize

Each year, the National Book Foundation’s Innovations in Reading Prize awards five prizes of $2,500 each to individuals and institutions that have developed innovative means of creating and sustaining a lifelong love of reading. The National Book Foundation is proud to recognize the Uprise Books Project as a winner of the 2013 Innovations in Reading Prize.

The Uprise Books Project was founded in 2011 with a very simple mission: to encourage underprivileged teens to read by providing them with new banned and challenged books.

Why banned and challenged books? There are a couple of big hurdles when it comes to getting teens to read. Simply getting kids access to books is the first step; kids in poorer neighborhoods tend to have fewer books in the home, they tend to live further from public libraries, and they often attend poorly funded schools.

But just giving teens books isn’t enough. Between family obligations (many are parents themselves), below-standard reading skills, and an environment that discourages anything close to intellectual activities, many disadvantaged teens need a better reason to read than simply being told “it’s good for you.”

The folks at Uprise believe that the “forbidden fruit” angle of banned and challenged literature could provide that motivation. Anyone who’s ever been a teenager knows that one of the best ways to pique their curiosity about something is to tell them they aren’t allowed to know about it, so why not use that trait for good? The same kid who couldn’t care less that the Modern Library calls The Great Gatsby one of the best novels of the twentieth century might jump at a book challenged for its “language and sexual references.” And judging by the feedback Uprise has received after giving books to a few hundred teens, they think they just might be onto something.

WorldReader, Winner of the 2013 Innovations in Reading Prize

Each year, the National Book Foundation’s Innovations in Reading Prize awards five prizes of $2,500 each to individuals and institutions that have developed innovative means of creating and sustaining a lifelong love of reading. The National Book Foundation is proud to recognize Worldreader as a winner of the 2013 Innovations in Reading Prize.

Worldreader is a US and European nonprofit created in 2010 by David Risher (former Amazon.com executive) and Colin McElwee (former ESADE Business School’s marketing director) whose mission is to make digital books (via e-readers and mobile phones) available to children and their families in the developing world, so millions of people can improve their lives. Worldreader combines new technologies, the mobile phone networks, and declining costs to provide immediate access to hundreds of thousands of local textbooks, storybooks, and international literature.

Via its e-reader programs, Worldreader has delivered over 480,000 e-books, impacting nearly 10,000 children and families in six sub-Saharan African countries. Those children now read more, read better, and are improving their communities. In addition, through Worldreader Mobile―a book application―more than half a million people globally are reading a wide variety of books, including educational material, health tips, love stories, prize-winning short stories, children’s books, and classics, all on a device they already own―their mobile phone. Many of the books in Worldreader’s programs are from African publishers and authors. When students begin to read, they are more engaged when the stories in their books are familiar to them. Worldreader partners with African publishers to make their books available to children in the e-reader programs, and to everyone through Worldreader Mobile. At the same time, the literature of the world is of immense interest to children and adults everywhere. Worldreader’s international publishing partners make their books available at no cost, exposing children and families everywhere to some of the best-known literature in the world.

Interview with The Uprise Books Project

Justin Stanley founded Uprise Books Project in 2011 with a very simple mission: to encourage underprivileged teens to read by providing them with new banned and challenged books. Uprise won an Innovations in Reading Prize in 2013.

National Book Foundation: What inspired your Innovations in Reading-winning program?

Justin Stanley: My family didn’t have much when I was a kid. My younger brother and I were raised by a single mother and when we were in elementary school we were completely dependent on government and community help to make ends meet. I knew what government cheese tasted like and the various ways people looked at you when your mom pulled out a book of food stamps in the grocery store line, what it was like to be we-have-to-skip-the-electric-bill-this-month-if-we-want-to-eat poor.

I also remember the day in second grade when I came to school to find a group of strangers from some place called “RIF” standing behind a table of books, telling us kids that we could have one. For free. I couldn’t tell you what specific book I chose that day, but I’ve never forgotten how great it felt to bring it home.

Fast forward a couple decades…

I enrolled in the MBA program at Portland State University in 2010. During the summer quarter in 2011, the school offered a Social Innovation and Entrepreneurship course when I happened to need an elective. The main deliverable for that course was a market feasibility analysis for a new social business of the student’s creation, one that tackled a social issue that the student felt passionate about. I eventually came around to the idea of taking on poverty, illiteracy, and censorship, and the Uprise Books Project was born.

NBF: What obstacles or challenges have you encountered along the way?

JS: Most are the same obstacles that other nonprofits face: not enough hours in the day or dollars in the bank account to accomplish everything you’d like. The most surprising, though, is how difficult it can be to give books to students by going through official channels.

Yes, the Uprise Books Project promotes books that have been banned or challenged, but many of those titles are beloved classics and award-winners. You’d think it would be as easy as calling a principal in a low-income school and saying “Hey, we’d like to give your kids free books! Where do we send the package?” But, unfortunately, that’s not always how it works.

Case in point… we recently approached a lower income high school in a small/medium-sized city. The school has about 1500 ninth-through-twelfth grade students, roughly 75% of whom qualify for free or reduced student lunches. We had a particular title in mind, a National Book Award-winner for Young People’s Literature, but were told that district policy prohibited them from letting us give that particular book to students of all ages.

“No problem,” we thought, and we sent the person in charge of the district’s curriculum a list of about 200 titles in the hope that they could help us find one that would be acceptable. They highlighted two titles they thought would be a good fit, one of which was written by an author we’d worked with in the past, so we started making calls and sending emails.

We were thrilled when the author’s publisher agreed to donate all 1500 copies needed and we emailed the school to share the good news. To our surprise, though, they asked us to NOT send the books after all, that they needed to re-evaluate the title before we could give it to their students. We’re still waiting for the official decision.

NBF: What are the most satisfying aspects of the work your organization does?

JS: I’ve shared this story with people before, so forgive me if this is redundant…

The first time we sent books to a school, the teacher we worked with told us afterward that several of his students were reluctant to write their names in their new copies of The Catcher in the Rye. It turned out that this was the first time in these kids’ lives that someone had ever given them a book, and they were hesitant to “deface” it in any way.

It’s just bittersweet. These were teenagers, after all, young men and women who’d been on this planet for nearly two decades, and they’d never owned a book before. Of course, it feels great to help change that, but it would feel a hell of a lot better if it wasn’t a problem that existed in the first place. It’s really amazing, though, to think that we (Uprise, our donors, our cheerleaders, the teachers we work with, etc.) can change lives so easily and inexpensively.

NBF: How has winning the Innovations in Reading Prize affected your organization?

JS: We’re still a small, relatively young organization with a tiny budget and an all-volunteer workforce. With everyone having day jobs and families and various other obligations, it’s sometimes hard to justify dedicating those precious few remaining minutes to this project. The Innovations in Reading Prize reenergized us all, though, and reminded us that this is something worth doing. It’s been a shot of adrenaline.

Externally, it’s given us clout that we didn’t have before. It’s so much easier to contact authors, publishers, educators, and potential donors as an AWARD-WINNING nonprofit organization than it was before. We may not have the name recognition needed to convince everyone to take our calls, but the National Book Foundation does, and being able to leverage that connection has already opened doors.

NBF: What’s on the horizon for your organization for 2014?

JS: Expansion. We have three big goals for 2014:

  • 50/50 Plan: In 2014, the Uprise Books Project will reach at least 50 underprivileged teens in each of the 50 states. It’s a pretty significant yearly increase in the number of students we’ve reached, but we have no doubt that our supporters will help us make it happen.
  • The Uprise Books Store: The average nonprofit receives over half its funding through sales of goods and services. Uprise, though, has relied nearly completely on individual contributions. It’s not sustainable, and it certainly won’t let us expand the way we’d like. With that in mind, we’ll be launching an online store filled with banned book-related goodies, sales from which will help us get more books to more kids.
  • Personal Banned Book Stories: Starting in January, we’ll be sharing stories from folks from all walks of life about how banned and challenged books have impacted them. You’ll hear from artists and scientists, lawyers and entrepreneurs, CEOs and stay-at-home moms, each of whom simply wouldn’t be the person they are today if not for that special book.

On a personal note, I’ll be heading back to Portland State University to help the next generation of social entrepreneurs learn about the field. I’ll be assisting Cindy Cooper (the co-founder and director of Impact Entrepreneurs at PSU) in her Design Thinking in Social Innovation course in the winter quarter (the first class in the school’s new Business of Social Innovation certification program) and mentoring students interested in making their social ventures a reality.

Interview with The Uni Project

The Uni Project, a winner of the 2013 Innovations in Reading Prize, is a portable reading room for New York City conceived of and run by Leslie and Sam Davol. The Uni provides a new kind of amenity for city residents, while fostering a stronger, more prominent culture of reading and learning at street level. Below is our interview with Leslie Davol, co-founder of The Uni Project.

National Book Foundation: What inspired your Innovations in Reading-winning program?

Leslie Davol: We started sharing books and creating outdoor reading rooms because we love the city. When you walk through different cities, you pick up on different priorities. Are you dodging bicycles or cars? Can you find a place to sit down? Where are the playgrounds? Look closer and you’ll see differences in the prominence of books. At one end of the spectrum, Paris comes to mind—there seems to be a book store every couple of blocks.

New Yorkers love books and reading. They say that education and learning are top priorities for themselves and for their children. But sometimes, the urban environment of New York can make you think that we’re more interested in just about anything else, from cell phones to shoe shopping. The Uni reading room is simply a way to unleash New Yorkers’ passion for reading and learning by using available public space to gather around these activities. It’s a simple but powerful idea, especially in the middle of a city of 8 million potential readers.
NBF: What obstacles or challenges have you encountered along the way?

LD: It isn’t always easy to set up a reading room in a public space. We like to surprise people, amaze them even, by finding ways to put books in places you wouldn’t expect. But we also want people to feel like a reading room in the middle of the city is a feasible, sensible solution that could be an ongoing part of public life. So ideally, our installation should appear dramatic and practical all at once. We’re constantly working on that balance.

NBF: What are the most satisfying aspects of the work your organization does?

LD: Most of our staff and volunteers say the same thing: we love meeting fellow New Yorkers, especially the ones who like books and enjoy public space. The Uni certainly makes it easy to find those folks.

There are moments when we’re packing up the books when there’s a kid who seems to be more than just disappointed that the day is over. Maybe even distraught. Is this a love of books, or maybe a love of a safe, pleasant place to be? Maybe both. We’ve learned that the Uni can be a haven, a kind of oasis in a very busy and sometimes challenging city.

NBF: How has winning the Innovations in Reading prize affected your organization?

LD: It was great to meet fellow prize winners. We’ve started a collaboration with The Uprise Books Project to bring banned books to NYC streets, for example. Of course, the Prize has also let us share our work with thousands of people who follow the National Book Foundation and the National Book Awards. That has strengthened our own work, opened new opportunities, and hopefully added something back to the book world as well.

NBF: What’s on the horizon for your organization for 2014?

LD: We’ll bring open-air reading rooms to even more spaces in New York City, including special initiatives aimed at plazas and play streets. We’ve also designed new infrastructure—a kind of kit for creating reading rooms—that we’re producing for libraries and other organizations across the country. Just recently, we were brainstorming ideas for curating our collection next year and someone suggested highlighting National Book Award authors when we’re out and about next fall. Good idea. See you on the street!

UPDATE:

Why is reading vital?

Reading brings out the best in people. Reading together in public brings out the best in our communities.

Tell us about some accomplishments or successes you’ve had since winning the prize:

In 2014, the Uni Project

– offered 430 hours of reading rooms on the streets of New York City in 26 locations;
– helped launch five portable reading rooms in other cities run by others, including Seattle Public Library and DC Public Library;
– won the Mayor of Boston’s Public Space Invitational and created a Uni reading room for downtown Boston;
– partnered with National Book Foundation to create two special reading rooms in NYC Parks; and
– launched a new reading room activity that helps New York kids write mini book reviews on the side of our carts!

In 2015, watch for Uni reading rooms in parks, plazas, play streets and other public spaces in New York City. Stay tuned for more Uni reading rooms that pop up in other cities, run by libraries and community organizations. See you on the street!

The Uni Project, Winner of the 2013 Innovations in Reading Prize

Each year, the National Book Foundation’s Innovations in Reading Prize awards five prizes of $2,500 each to individuals and institutions that have developed innovative means of creating and sustaining a lifelong love of reading. The National Book Foundation is proud to recognize The Uni Project as a winner of the 2013 Innovations in Reading Prize.

The Uni is a portable reading room for New York City. Conceived of and run by Leslie and Sam Davol, the purpose of the Uni is to provide a new kind of amenity for city residents, while fostering a stronger, more prominent culture of reading and learning at street level.

The Uni consists of lightweight cubes that stack to create an attractive place to gather. Cubes also serve as shelves, providing access to high-quality books and hands-on learning activities for the public to browse and read. Benches provide seating, and experienced volunteers act as hosts. What happens next is simple: people gather around, pull books off shelves, sit down, and read. But the effect is profound: people are transformed into readers on a kind of stage. Neighborhoods are transformed into places where the value of reading and learning is recognized, promoted, and shared.

The Uni was launched with a crowd-funding campaign and put into service on September 11, 2011. In 2012, operating as a nonprofit, Leslie and Sam deployed the Uni ten times in seven different New York City neighborhoods, at times partnering with the Queens and Brooklyn public libraries. They also shipped a second Uni to Almaty, Kazakhstan, for deployment there by the U.S. Consulate, funded by the U.S. State Department.

In 2013, with the support of foundations and a growing list of contributors, the project will more than double the number of NYC deployments, continuing to prioritize emerging public spaces and underserved communities. Leslie and Sam’s goal is to establish a regular circuit for the Uni and involve a growing number of educational partners—teachers, libraries, and museums—who want to reach beyond their walls. The project will also launch a new cart design, created by Uni architects Höweler + Yoon, which will be offered to neighborhoods and cities beyond the reach of the Uni in New York.

 

Interview with Little Free Library

Little Free Library, a winner of the 2013 Innovations in Reading Prize, is a free book exchange and social movement. Volunteers build and install creatively-designed book boxes for their local communities to share books with one another. There are now more than 10,000 Little Free Libraries installed around the world. Below is our interview with Rick Brooks, co-founder of Little Free Library.

National Book Foundation: What inspired your Innovations in Reading-winning program?  

Rick Brooks: Funny how the Innovations in Reading program focuses on “thinking outside the box,” because the prototype Little Free Library was just that—a box of books in my partner Todd Bol’s front yard. Both the structure itself and its contents had value. What we soon realized together was that what happened outside that box could establish a rich combination of purposes—new cultural norms for giving and sharing, friendships across generations and cultures, new dissemination channels for books, new ways to extend the reach of public libraries, and much more. To be honest, our inspiration came from many different directions—our mothers and teachers, book lovers and favorite authors. Illiterate farmers and poor families in developing countries also fit into the mix, as do young people with an indefatigable desire to learn, neighbors who are lonely, and people who have a yearning for a sense of community. So do people like Lutie Stearns, the Wisconsin librarian who delivered nearly 1,400 wooden boxes of books to tiny communities throughout Wisconsin between 1895 and 1912. Storytellers and pioneers who knew they had something important to offer and refused to give up.

NBF: What obstacles or challenges have you encountered along the way?  

RB: Because this family of ideas was neither high-tech nor intended to make millions of dollars, it grew almost organically from the ground up.  There was no start-up capital or venture funding; no precedent or business model; and no large institution that stepped up to take the enterprise under its wing and protect it.  So when the word got out through national media and the potential benefits of Little Free Libraries became more obvious, our two-person, then five-person group of volunteers and modestly paid staff found itself in much higher demand than anyone could rightly expect to meet.

That was both the blessing and the conundrum: how do we stay true to our nonprofit mission and grassroots origin but stay ahead of the massive—yes, worldwide—interest in recreating the magic that got us “out of the box” in the first place?  Early adopters of this innovation became our heroes and advocates. We believed then and now that the name they have earned—stewards of Little Free Libraries—accurately represents the heart of this movement.

Anyone can build a box and fill it with books. They can be proud of their work, even though the roof might leak and they run out of books every once in a while. But there is an almost spiritual aspect of Little Free Libraries that transcends the very temporary trends of popular culture.

NBF: What are the most satisfying aspects of the work your organization does?

RB: Every week we receive hundreds of photographs and messages from people around the world who have brought Little Free Libraries to their communities. We are amazed at the diversity of interest: from a state health department and community health clinics who want to use Little Free Libraries as a key part of their outreach efforts on lead poisoning and early childhood development to elderly housing programs, food pantries, and after-school programs in small towns. There are now Little Free Libraries in countries that we did not even know existed three years ago. Handwritten notes of thanks as well as tearful requests for help getting books in the hands of kids who have never owned one. Grandpas stand proudly beside the Libraries they built for their grandchildren. Survivors of hurricanes and tornados show us the Libraries they built from storm debris. Above the Arctic Circle and in the jungles of Latin America and Africa, Little Free Libraries offer something to do in refugee camps, orphanages, and village squares. Seeing such expressions of goodness and commitment can be extremely gratifying.

NBF: How has winning the Innovations in Reading Prize affected your organization?  

RB: We honestly don’t know yet. We hope that it will help us find partners and support that will relieve some of the pressure to keep up with the huge expansion. We also hope it will help Little Free Libraries to be perceived as an important part of the wide spectrum of service that publishers, schools, and public libraries have fulfilled for years.

NBF: What’s on the horizon for your organization for 2014?

RB: Our four primary programs, Little Free Libraries for Small Towns, Books Around the Block, Good Global Neighbors, and Friends Through the Years, now offer a coherent framework to reach three to four more times the number of people who already know us. Our Give It Forward Team (GIFT) is gaining momentum, too. We’re looking for underwriters and partners helping those who could not otherwise afford Little Free Libraries.

Our primary goal is not necessarily to GET BIG.  Instead, we want to provide both the inspiration and the tools for people everywhere to get involved at their own pace for the common good.  We would like to share the neighborhood and small town experience of Little Free Libraries personally, and see the creative ways that this concept has come alive.  Will there be beautifully crafted boxes of books in art and history museums and folk festivals? We have no doubt. And will they touch the lives of all kinds of people—readers and non-readers alike? We hope so.

Little Free Library, Winner of the 2013 Innovations in Reading Prize

Each year, the National Book Foundation’s Innovations in Reading Prize awards five prizes of $2,500 each to individuals and institutions that have developed innovative means of creating and sustaining a lifelong love of reading. The National Book Foundation is proud to recognize Little Free Library as a winner of the 2013 Innovations in Reading Prize.

In 2010, when Todd Bol and Rick Brooks first shared ideas about what was to become the Little Free Library movement, the idea was simple—a box of books that looked like a one-room school house with a sign that said “Free Books.” Posted in his front yard by the St. Croix River in Hudson, Wisconsin, the first model was a memorial to Bol’s mother, a teacher who loved to read. But the curiosity and delight of neighbors suggested there was something more to it. The phrase “Take a Book, Return a Book” explained it pretty well, the name Little Free Library stuck, and the mission became clear—to promote a sense of community, reading for children, literacy for adults, and libraries around the world. Sense of community trumped everything. Books became the currency of friendship, and constructing the free neighborhood book exchanges themselves emerged as a new American folk craft.

By late 2011, nearly 400 Little Free Libraries had been installed in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and several other states. Within two more years, the total had swelled to between 6,000 and 8,000 in forty-two countries, from Ghana, Uganda, and Nigeria to Japan, Australia, Brazil, and a dozen European nations. Millions of people have opened the doors of Little Free Libraries to find good books donated by their neighbors and contributed their favorites for others to read.

 

Interview with Reading is the Way Up

Los Angeles-based City National Bank established Reading is the Way Up in 2002 to address the plight of school libraries and the lack of current and compelling books available to students. To date, the program has placed over 170,000 books into the hands of students. Reading is the Way Up is a winner of the 2013 Innovations in Reading Prize. Below is our interview with Carolyn Rodriguez, Vice President, Program, And Administrative Manager Of City National Bank/Reading Is The Way Up.

National Book Foundation: What inspired your Innovations in Reading-winning program?

Carolyn Rodriguez: Our belief is that a good education and the ability to learn throughout one’s career are vital to success in today’s world—and it all starts with reading. City National has a big stake in fostering a new generation of educated and informed youth. These young people are our future leaders, entrepreneurs, clients, and colleagues. That’s why we created Reading is the Way Up. This multifaceted literacy program is designed to address the plight of school libraries. The need is great. When we first launched our efforts in California during the spring of 2002, the state ranked amongst the lowest in the nation for school library funding. Sadly, while some progress has been made, much has not changed. Even in this age of technology, books remain the foundation for learning. While the situation is better today than it was several years ago, public school libraries still do not have enough books, especially those that are current and compelling for kids. At City National, we understand our responsibility for making a difference in the communities where we live and work.
NBF: What obstacles or challenges have you encountered along the way?

CR: I believe the biggest and most frustrating challenge remains making pathways into schools. We want to be able to reach as many schools as possible and getting them to take the time to understand what we do and what we can do for their students is a challenge. Schools, principals, and teachers have a lot of demands on them and making time for one more thing or activity is not always a priority for them, even though there is a direct benefit for their students.
NBF: What are the most satisfying aspects of the work your organization does?

CR: I would say the teacher grants portion of the program. City National colleagues donate through payroll deduction to support this part of the program and over the last eight years have committed over $700,000 from their paychecks that goes directly into the classroom to fund teacher literacy projects.

We also partner with Barnes & Noble and together we have put almost 250,000 books into the hands of students.
NBF: How has winning the Innovations in Reading Prize affected your organization?

CR: City National is honored to have been selected as a winner. This prestigious prize recognizes all of our accomplishments and validates all of the hard work City National colleagues have put into making this a stellar program.
NBF: What’s on the horizon for your organization for 2014?

CR: We made some great connections as a result of the Innovations in Reading Prize, and on March 19, we are going to have one of the National Book Award Finalists for Poetry, Adrian Matejka, do a reading at one of our partner high schools in the Bronx. I will also be looking at ways to continue to strategically grow the program without diluting the focus.

Reading is the Way Up, Winner of the 2013 Innovations in Reading Prize

Each year, the National Book Foundation’s Innovations in Reading Prize awards five prizes of $2,500 each to individuals and institutions that have developed innovative means of creating and sustaining a lifelong love of reading. The National Book Foundation is proud to recognize City National Bank’s Reading is the Way Up as a winner of the 2014 Innovations in Reading Prize.

City National Bank believes that a good education and the ability to learn throughout one’s career are vital to success in today’s world―and it all starts with reading.

Reading Is the Way Up was started in 2002 to address the plight of school libraries and the lack of current and compelling books available to students. To date, the program has placed over 170,000 books into the hands of students. City National has done this through strategic partnerships with Barnes & Noble and Reading Is Fundamental, with the goal of promoting book ownership.

In 2005, a literacy grant component was added to the program. Since then, more than $600,000 in grants have been awarded to elementary, middle, and high school teachers in the five states where City National has offices. In 2011, school author visits were added to the program, and each student in attendance gets a signed copy of the author’s book. In addition, City National colleagues are encouraged to participate in the program and are given paid time off to do so.

The Reading Is the Way Up program has reached over 100,000 children and continues to look for creative ways to expand without losing the program’s focus.