Insuring the Well-Being of Bookstores and Booksellers

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The executive director of SIBA, Wanda Jewell, explains why she supports Binc, and why all of us should join her


For nearly 20 years, the Book Industry Charitable Foundation (Binc) has served as booksellers’ safety net, providing short-term financial support for booksellers (and their families) when they face an unexpected financial hardship.

Binc’s first assistance grant was given to a single mother struggling to pay her bills almost 20 years ago. Since that modest grant of $323, the level of assistance has grown, and the average grant today is more than $1,500. Whether the need arises from a natural disaster, serious medical expenses, domestic violence, the threat of eviction, or loss of utilities or household income, Binc works with each bookseller to return to a state of financial equilibrium.

Binc also offers higher-education scholarships for bookstore owners, employees, and their dependents, to help them reach their dreams through post-secondary education; professional-development scholarships are awarded so that bookstore owners and employees can attend industry education programs, gaining knowledge that strengthens their businesses.

Today, the Binc Foundation is a well-respected charitable organization, earning a silver seal from GuideStar and the top-rated designation from Great Nonprofits. Binc works closely with publishers, distributors, bookstores, booksellers, and bookstore customers to ensure the foundation remains relevant, strong, and sustainable.

Independent Bookselling is a noble pursuit. Those involved are not robots with algorithms but superheroes, people who are committed— and maybe should be committed, but that’s just the kind of crazy we need. And we must make sure that the needs of these superheroes are met, so that they can keep doing what they do so well.

This is my 25th year with the Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance (SIBA). Books gave me my life. Ever since childhood, books have sustained me (I turn 60 this year). They have taught me how to live, how to treat people, how different we all are, and how much we have in common. Books have educated me, entertained me, enlightened me, and empowered me to live a good life in a great job. And as the books came, so did the people: the parents, the teachers, the librarians, the readers, the writers, and the booksellers. I can never repay the debt that I owe books.

My first hardback purchase with my own money was in an indie bookstore. I cannot tell you how grateful I am for the hours I would spend in that bookstore, just soaking up words. With so little money, I’d finally purchase a comic book, or a book mark, as payment of sorts for letting me look and look and look. And when I had saved $12.50, I purchased a hardback copy of E.E. Cummings: Complete Poems, and I still prize that book; it established me as a book collector.

Some might say I have given my life to books, but I’d have to say that books have given me my life. And with a granddaughter on the horizon, I think about the importance of a world where people will show her the reading way. May there be healthy bookstores—and healthy booksellers, people who are not worried about how to pay their rent, or their medical bills, but instead can turn to me, my children, and my grandchildren with that light in their eyes, the one that inspires readers to discover new books, new writers, and new ideas.

That is why I am a sustaining member of Binc. With the upcoming launch of Binc’s Campaign to Sustain, I am increasing my commitment to $40 per month in celebration of SIBA’s 40th Anniversary, and I invite all of you to join me. Whatever you give—$5, $10, or $12.50 per month—it can make a huge difference to a bookseller out there in need. Let’s make sure Binc is there whenever it’s needed. I enjoin booksellers, publishers, authors, and readers to take a moment to become sustaining members of Binc. I want to support noble booksellers who face challenges and need help. We all need help sometimes—and we are all in a position to give help sometimes. So let’s do it.

Wanda Jewell, a former librarian, is a tireless promoter of indie bookstores and the literary South.

Reposted from the April, 17 edition of Publisher’s Weekly Soapbox. Many thanks to Publishers Weekly and Wanda Jewell for their support of Binc and our Campaign to Sustain.

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