Nicholas Kristof often writes about subjects so depressing I can’t bring myself to read the whole column, but in Sunday’s NY Times he has an inspiring piece about John Wood, whose charity, Room to Read, has opened 12,000 libraries around the world, along with 1,500 schools:

It all began in 1998 when Wood, then a Microsoft marketing director, chanced upon a remote school in Nepal serving 450 children. Only one problem: It had no books to speak of.

Wood blithely offered to help and eventually delivered a mountain of books by a caravan of donkeys. The local children were deliriously happy, and Wood said he felt such exhilaration that he quit Microsoft, left his live-in girlfriend (who pretty much thought he had gone insane), and founded Room to Read in 2000.[…]

“I get frustrated that there are 793 million illiterate people, when the solution is so inexpensive,” Wood told me outside one of his libraries in the Mekong. “If we provide this, it’s no guarantee that every child will take advantage of it. But if we don’t provide it, we pretty much guarantee that we perpetuate poverty.”

“In 20 years,” Wood told me, “I’d like to have 100,000 libraries, reaching 50 million kids. Our 50-year goal is to reverse the notion that any child can be told ‘you were born in the wrong place at the wrong time and so you will not get educated.’ That idea belongs on the scrapheap of human history.”

Now, there’s a guy who can say “I spent my time on earth well.” (Thanks, Bonnie!)


  1. Hat, I’ve been wasting my life! This is the ultimate in loving books and languages — not hoarding them but giving them freely to those who need them most. Why didn’t I think of something worthwhile to do with my life, something like this?

  2. Bizarre when you think about it – we’ve reverted to 100 years ago when Carnegie libraries were all the rage – another gilded age perhaps?

  3. This is brilliant!
    My eyes were full of tears when I read it (quiero decir que me emocioné, no sé si se expresa bien así en inglés)
    And Bathrobe words are great too.

  4. I wonder if he’s looked at the UK, lately, where libraries are being sold off, and closed just about daily. And they pulp the books, too. They don’t send them to Nepal.

  5. Does Amazon or any of its competitors ever do anything charitable with its books, anything like this?

  6. Signor Berlusconi, that’s a wonderful idea (or question)!
    (I was going to add that I miss your lovely goats, AJP, but considering your actual impersonation of Berlusconi this would seem a bit naughty, don’t you think?)

  7. In the 1960s, UNESCO promoted a worldwide literacy campaign. Then it discovered that once taught, children and adults had nothing to read – no books. So in 1970 it started “International Book Year” to promote production of books in developing nations with practical aid to speed up the process. There is a detailed report in pdf form at http://unesdoc.unesco.YYY/images/0001/000122/012250eo.pdf about the programme.
    [You will have to replace .YYY with .org if you want to look at it. For a reason I can’t fathom, his black list rejects the last three letters of UNESCO attached to .org. Perhaps it is an obscure obscenity in Dravidian of which Hat is one of the few masters. ]
    It was one of UNESCO’s better projects, in my opinion. The sort of practical aid was a project to unify the transliteration of six West African languages so they could be produced by the same typeface (IIRC).
    Re Carnegie libraries, I had one at my school in Sydney, which was rather surprising as it was one of the country’s leading private schools.

  8. My camera isn’t working.

  9. For some reason, “” was on the blacklist; I have removed it, and I apologize for the annoyance. Here‘s the direct link to Paul’s pdf.

  10. Toronto is battling with budget issues (as always) and has put up the idea of closing library branches. I think maybe an overhaul to make them more modernized and appealing might be the way to go instead. No one ever thought libraries would be up on the block.

  11. RoyalWeddingRing Posted on This is great time for England and all her fndires. The marriage o the future King and Queen and next year the Diamond Jubiliee!!

  12. Kerry: This is indeed another Gilded Age, that is to say another age of enormous inequality between rich and poor.

Speak Your Mind