Read International and the British Library

The partnership is 'about as good as it gets' for the literacy charity

The British Library collects charity partners. It unveils a new one every year - and instead of discarding the relationship at the end of 12 months, it is extended indefinitely.

Caroline Cook, HR and business development support manager at the British Library, says the policy, which is in its second year, is designed to give staff the opportunity to contribute to the wider community in a way that suits them. "The idea is to make a portfolio of initiatives and keeping adding to them year after year," she says.

Read International is the second charity to be added to the collection, after the National Literacy Trust in 2008. Read relies on volunteers to collect old textbooks from 1,500 schools across the country and send them to schools in Africa.

The charity, which was formed four years ago, has already forged partnerships with other businesses such as Big Yellow Storage, DHL and Europe Car.

But Rob Wilson, director of Read International, was especially pleased when the British Library approached him, offering to provide hands-on support. "When you're a charity working with books and the British Library wants to get involved, it's about as good as it gets," he says.

About 150 volunteers have been recruited at the British Library. Most are helping with collecting and sorting books and driving vans.

A team of software developers at the library is also providing more specialist help, developing an electronic book-sorting system for the charity.

At present, volunteers have to sort through all discarded school books by hand and pick out the ones that are relevant to the schools the charity works with. But when the new system is ready, volunteers will just have to scan a barcode to tell them if a book meets the criteria.

Wilson says the software will be worth tens of thousands of pounds and will save hundreds of hours in volunteering time. "It will revolutionise how we sort our books," he says.

Cook says the partnership does not have an end date. "I foresee the relationship with Read will continue until they don't want us any more," she says.

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