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Our history

Our organisation was founded in 1954 by Hermione, Countess of Ranfurly, who recognised the power of books. This year is our 70th anniversary.

Lady Ranfurly packing books in 1955

In 1952 the Countess of Ranfurly moved to the Bahamas with her husband, who was Governor General there. As Lady Ranfurly toured the islands she was shocked at the lack of reading materials for all ages. She set about collecting books that could be packed up and sent on to schools, libraries and institutions on the islands. Thus, the Ranfurly Out Islands Library was born.

I am getting on well with my Out Islands Library which is now quite substantial… It is so important that I make a success of this. It’s the most important thing I am doing.

Diary entry dated 25 April 1954, Lady Ranfurly, taken from her book ‘Hermione’

On her return to the UK in 1956 she decided to expand her ‘book scheme’ to the British Commonwealth. The Ranfurly Library Service took up residence in London and sent books to countries all over the world. In 1966 His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh became our royal patron, and he remained our patron until his death in 2021. On our charity’s 60th anniversary, he wrote of our work and long history saying:

“It is easy enough to spot a problem, the challenge lies in finding an appropriate solution. That there would be a serious shortage of books in schools and colleges in the English-speaking world immediately after the Second World War must have been evident to anyone who thought about such things. However, it was the Countess of Ranfurly who thought of a solution, put it into practice and made a huge success of it. The Ranfurly Library Service was founded in 1954 and became Book Aid International in 1994. Today, over 30 million books have been distributed to schools, colleges, community libraries, refugee camps and prisons across the world, and have touched the lives of an estimated 150 million readers of all ages.”

His Royal Highness The Duke of Edinburgh at a reception to launch our Vision 2020 strategy in 2017. It was one of his last public appearances.

Today, Her Majesty The Queen,  is our patron, and we are honoured to have had royal patronage for so much of our history.

Over the years, the charity evolved and moved to a model of sending only brand new books in response to partner requests, as well as running projects and programmes to create inspiring spaces for children. In 1994, the Ranfurly Library Service changed its name to Book Aid International.

Since 1954, we have sent more than 37 million books to libraries across the world. Today, we provide around one million brand new, carefully selected books to people in libraries, schools, universities, refugee camps, hospitals and prisons around the world every year. Many of these people would otherwise have few books, or even no books at all.

We know books have the power to spark positive change. In the last 70 years we have sent millions of books to those places and communities where we know they will have the most impact.

Together with our supporters and partners, we want to take Lady Ranfurly’s vision and purpose into the future, ensuring we give everyone access to the power of books.

Alison Tweed, Chief Executive, Book Aid International

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Read about the work that we do today providing books around the world

Our mission and vision

Our vision is a world where everyone has access to books that will enrich, improve and change their lives.

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Where we work

We work around the world where people need books.

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Our people

Our work is only possible through the work of our staff, volunteers, trustees and many friends.

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