Street closures for UN General Assembly

Nonprofit, Library for All, provides free digital bookstore to kids in developing countries

CHELSEA, Manhattan — Some 250 million children worldwide lack access to books and basic education.

In countries like Haiti, 85 percent of schools don't even have a library, but the nonprofit Library for All is changing the game.

"We exist to make knowledge accessible to all equally," co-founder Tanyella Evans said. "We believe that in the 21st century access to knowledge is a basic human right."

When users open its app, millions of minds are opened through its vast digital collection of books.

"We’ve actually build a really diverse library of books in local languages," Evans said.

It's a global bookstore that can fit in a pocket, filled with 4,000 stories, available at the touch of a button.

Tanyella Evans co-founded the tech-startup in 2013 with Rebecca McDonald after seeing first-hand how scarce books are in developing countries while teaching in Uganda.

"I had one textbook to teach a class of 40 students,” she said. “It was just a year that really changed my life, the students were so eager to learn and to read, they would beg me for homework."

However, these impoverished communities did have mobile devices.

“There’s actually 6 billion mobile phone subscribers in developing countries so we thought, why not make books accessible to people on devices that they already have? And that was really the light switch," Evans said. 

So they began partnering with local organizations, authors and publishers to digitize books. For many, this library is the only place where a copy exists. While Library for All doesn't provide the device, it provides the content.

“What we found is that children in developing countries want to read books in their local language,” she said. "Actually, that is also critical for children in gaining the basics of literacy."

There are an estimated 781 million people in the world, over the age of 15, who are illiterate. And nearly half the global population, more 3 billion people, live in poverty.

"Literacy is key to lifting people out of poverty and if every child was able to read by the time they left school, then 170 million people could be lifted out of poverty," Evans said.

About 10,000 kids in five countries are reading on the Library for All platform.

“It’s been amazing to see children that get access to Library for All are not only doing better on standardized tests but also, there’s been an impact on their self-esteem," she said.

Evans aims to triple the number of people with access in the next year and hopes some day to reach every kid in every country.

“I was in Rwanda recently and I met this young girl who had traveled eight hours on a bus to photocopy her friend’s textbook," she said. "Our vision is, can we make that textbook available on the devices in her pocket."

Produced by: Kim Pestalozzi