Libraries Without Borders: Bringing Knowledge to Those in Need

Since 2007, Libraries Without Borders has worked to bring knowledge to those who are the most in need. Libraries are simultaneously excellent places for personal development as well as for collective work. However, they are too often absent in those places where they could have the most impact.

In 13 years, Libraries Without Borders has helped to change the lives of more than 6 million people in 50 countries across the globe. They have created revolutionary tools like the Ideas Box — a fully equipped media center created by French designer Philippe Starck — which now gives tens of thousands of refugees the ability to learn, exchange ideas, educate their children, and plan for the future. Right away, the Ideas Box showed its potential in various other contexts, including inner cities in France, rural settlements for FARC ex-combatants in Colombia, aboriginal zones in Australia, and recently in refugee camps in Bangladesh. 

The refugee settlement called Cox's Bazar is now the largest in the world. The "mega camp" now has more than 700,000 Rohingya refugees, a Muslim minority that has been discriminated against in Burma for decades. It is a giant "city" where the literacy rate is not less than 25 percent. In the beginning of 2019, Libraries Without Borders installed five Ideas Boxes: three in the refugee camp, two others with host populations.

What makes Libraries Without Borders' work special is that they are able to supply the resources that correspond to the needs of the right people at the right moment. Because access to and understanding of information are the key sources of the majority of inequalities today, Libraries Without Borders works in 23 languages and has selected more than 28,000 resources. This allows them to strengthen the capacities of populations around the most important issues of our world today: education, health, employment, citizenship, environment and sustainability, disability, and technology.

NGOsource's Role

Libraries Without Borders first underwent the equivalency determination (ED) process with NGOsource in 2014. Three additional funders benefited from the due diligence facilitated in the initial ED process when they subsequently requested their own EDs for the organization.

NGOs like Libraries Without Borders benefit from the fact that NGOsource's efficient ED process allows them to avoid duplicative efforts with U.S.-based funders and spend more time and energy on doing what they do best: meeting their mission. Grantmakers also benefit from the ED process: As an NGOsource member, a grantmaker can save nearly $8,000 in ED costs and acquire $250 ED certificates for NGOs already in NGOsource's centralized repository.

Beyond the ED

Libraries Without Borders is not like other organizations. Its work is halfway between a humanitarian NGO that intervenes in the most difficult situations and a social enterprise that helps local and national governments spread knowledge everywhere. Thanks to its ED, Libraries Without Borders is now capable of diversifying its actions more and more, — in France and all over the world — and innovating every day in order to give everyone the capacity to be free and autonomous and to make decisions that correspond to their aspirations.


We thank Quentin Chevalier of Libraries Without Borders for his role as a guest contributor to this article.

Photos provided with permission from Libraries Without Borders © 2020.