This is the 1st post in a two-part series featuring the work of Prof. Lea Shaver, the world's leading expert on book hunger and the right to read. She is tenured at Indiana University's Robert H. McKinney School of Law, where she teaches copyright law and human rights law. Her research on intellectual property and distributive justice has shaped international law at the United Nations. She is a long-time advocate of StoryWeaver and its open-licensing philosophy.

Purvi Shah, Director -  StoryWeaver says: “We were introduced to Lea’s work way back in 2014, through a research paper she had authored. The paper's focus was on copyright, how it promotes social inequality and can be a barrier to access. We reached out to her and walked her through Pratham Books’ open license philosophy, and how it helps address issues of access and gives agency to stakeholders to create content they need and can use. This led to our story being extensively referenced in her latest book Ending Book Hunger. A big thank you to Lea for raising awareness about and sharing solutions to these challenges of access and literacy.”

Read this piece by Professor Shaver, to understand the pressing issue of ‘book hunger’ and the steps we can take to mitigate this crisis.

Worldwide, one billion children have virtually no reading material. Over the long term, book hunger is almost as dangerous as the regular kind. 

Early and consistent access to reading material is essential to literacy skills. And fluent literacy is key to academic success and escape from poverty.

An extensive body of research demonstrates that a book-rich environment is critical to a child’s educational achievement and future income. The “book effect” has been demonstrated in countries both rich and poor, communist and capitalist, and across diverse cultures. Sociologists Mariah Evans, Jonathan Kelley, and Joanna Sikora reviewed studies on the relationship between books and life outcomes from forty-two countries. They found that even the smallest of home book collections benefit children, and these benefits increase with the size of the collection. Growing up in a home with at least two hundred books promotes a child’s future success more powerfully than having parents with college degrees. This rigorous body of research proves what those of us who grew up with books already know.

Children who read regularly for pleasure become fluent readers, take joy in learning, and perform well in school.

Books at home matter so much, because that's where children are most of the time.

Teachers all over the world are scrambling to figure out how to continue to support literacy while schools are closed. The most important step is to get books to every child. Simply providing books makes a big difference.

The viral pandemic has created a book crisis. And that should concern us greatly, because access to books is the number one determinant of educational achievement and future income.

So, how do we get books to students... fast... in both digital and paper formats?

There are several solutions:

  • DIGITAL: Smartphones connect 4.7 billion people to the Internet. Virtual libraries can put a bookshelf in every pocket.
  • LICENSING: Speeding up permissions helped libraries and schools better serve readers with blindness and other print disabilities.
  • FAIR USE: Libraries and book charities can invoke existing legal flexibility to translate children's books into underserved languages.
  • LEGAL REFORM: Lawmakers can legalize translations into disadvantaged languages, without impacting publishing income.
  • OPEN BOOKS: Creative Commons licenses helped one nonprofit (Pratham Books’ StoryWeaver) go from producing a few dozen new books each year, to producing thousands.
  • VOLUNTEERS: One in ten Icelanders will publish a book. It's not because they hope to get rich.
  • SCALING UP: We can end childhood book hunger by 2030, but only through a strategy of mass translation, free eBooks, and cheap copies.

Book hunger is a solvable problem. If this issue matters to you, I'm excited to present 'Ending Book Hunger'. Discover innovative non-profit strategies to bring books within reach of every child, and what you can do to help. Visit: ‘Ending Book Hunger’ to learn more.

Illustration by Shrujana Shridhar, for बेटियाँ भी चाहें आज़ादी written by Kamla Bhasin, published by Pratham Books

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