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A Book Bank for Kids

Zain stands next to a book collection bin, which allows residents to donate books for children in need. 

Cleveland Kids’ Book Bank is a nonprofit organization dedicated to distributing free books to children. The idea took root in 2014, when founders Judy Payne and Judi Kovach placed Little Free Libraries around elementary schools in Cleveland, Ohio. A total of 60 small libraries were placed, allowing readers to take and leave books.

Payne and Kovach noticed that more books were being taken than left. In February 2016, they created the Cleveland Kids’ Book Bank. Their goal was to get more books to kids in need.

Recently, I spoke via video with Colleen Watt, director of operations at the Book Bank. She explained that in order to distribute as many books as possible, the Book Bank partners with more than 1,500 organizations. Partners include the Cleveland Metropolitan School District, the Greater Cleveland Food Bank, local YMCAs, and even community centers.

“We distribute about 50,000 books every month to organizations in our area that work with kids,” Watt said.

To date, the nonprofit has distributed four million free books to more than 100,000 kids in need in the Cleveland area. The group is fulfilling an important mission that will directly affect children’s future.

“Two out of three low-income kids don’t have any books in their home,” Watt said. “Having access to books in your home, even just having print material, in general, is a very important indicator for academic success.”


Zain interviews Colleen Watt, director of operations for the Cleveland Kids’ Book Bank, via video. 


The Book Bank purchases many titles online from bulk distributors of new and used books. Occasionally, specific titles are purchased from publishers at discounted prices.

Sometimes, the Cleveland Kids’ Book Bank receives donations from publishers, including Scholastic Inc. The Book Bank also gets donations from community members. There are 17 outdoor book collection bins throughout the Cleveland area. 

Community members volunteer to help sort and distribute the books. Kids who are 13 and older can help sort and box books. Kids of any age can host book drives in their communities. “Kid hosts help collect those books, count them, pack them, and bring them to the Book Bank,” Watt said.

The students who receive the books are very excited. “Our students constantly ask, ‘When are we getting more books?’ I have to stop kids from opening the boxes when a shipment arrives,” said a teacher from  Davis Aerospace & Maritime High School in Cleveland. 

According to Watt, the Book Bank serves a unique role in kids’ lives. “There’s something really special about book ownership and the idea that there is no requirement for a book to be returned,” she told me. “You really can cherish it and enjoy it.” 


Photos courtesy of the author