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The Urgency of Reading campaign

They have signed the call

Kwame Anthony Appiah, Wendy Brown, Philip Caputo, Joseph Carens, Edwidge Danticat, Junot Díaz, Dave Eggers, Eugene Fidell, Owen Fiss, Arthur Goldhammer, Judith Goldstein, Zachary Kaufman, Todd Landman, Lawrence Lessig, Colin Macleod, Jocelyn Maclure, Veronique-Munoz Darde, Joyce Carol Oates, David Rieff, Richard Sennett, Elizabeth Strout...


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An insufficient acknowledgment of the intellectual dimension of human beings in humanitarian crises


Following the devastating 2010 earthquake in Haiti, Libraries Without Borders (LWB) sent an emergency mission to Haiti to help Haitian organizations distribute books and educational resources to internally displaced persons. At this time, several aid agencies in Europe and North America asked us: is what you're doing really a priority?


LWB’s years of dedicated humanitarian assistance in Haiti and 20 other countries across the globe (benefiting some 500 000 persons) have demonstrated that our action in crisis and post-crisis situations is crucial. For what is a man, woman, or child if once their lives are saved, and food and shelter found, are without activity, unable to read, write or communicate? The ability to read, write and access information helps sustain intellectual stimulation to rebuild one's sense of self, reestablish social links and build resilience amid and post crisis. Whether through books, computers, legal assistance or training, access to information and cultural resources empowers individuals and gives them the tools to reconstruct what has been lost. Not only has LWB witnessed this firsthand in Haiti, but the positive impact of access to information was similarly observed in Chile and Japan after the earthquakes in 2010 and 2011, respectively.


Yet the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement, published by the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, do not address the intellectual and cultural dimension necessary in humanitarian emergency responses. While there is no doubt that fulfilling basic needs like food and shelter is of the utmost importance in humanitarian situations, the question is never raised regarding possible means of communication or access to books and information for displaced persons in post-disaster zones.


It is out of a desire to promote this commitment to the intellectual dimension of human beings in humanitarian crises that we launched the international campaign "the Urgency of Reading" last November, supported by over a hundred writers and intellectuals including 9 Nobel Prize winners, among which are Toni MorrisonDoris Lessing, Mario Vargas Llosa, and Willem de Klerk, novelists Isabel AllendeStephen King and Salman Rushdie, as well as humanitarian specialists such as academic Jean-Christophe Ruffin, former president of Action Against Hunger France.


The Urgency of Reading campaign

LWB initiated the campaign through its international call to action (to be found at


The second part of the campaign has involved using the petition as a springboard to increase pressure on international organizations and States to place access to information and books at the heart of the international humanitarian agenda. In particular, LWB intends to communicate the campaign’s message to United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova, and Kristalina Georgieva, European Commissioner for International Cooperation, Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Response. 


It is also accompanied by intensive research and development, in partnership with numerous NGOs, to conceptualize new tools for the expansion of access to information and knowledge in crises. It is within this framework that LWB is developing an extremely innovative portable media centre: The Ideas Box.


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