It's home to 1.5 million books but few people know it's in town -- a slice of a huge warehouse in an industrial park.
A worker down the street in Linthicum hadn't even heard of the International Book Bank Inc. (IBB).
Free books on arcane subjects are normal there. But it couldn't unload 20,000 copies of a book by former Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger. No interest. They were recycled.
The Book Bank, affiliated with a development agency in Canada, is as unusual a nonprofit group as any of the 4,000 tax-exempt outfits in Maryland. It is within weeks of sending its 5-millionth free book to an impoverished school or library abroad.
"Over and over and over again, wherever I've gone -- Bulgaria, Hungary, [the former] Czechoslovakia, Romania, Poland -- the children and teachers were so thankful," said Suzette Ungvarsky, associate director. "Many people read the books. We think 25 people often read one book."
Donated books arrive from places such as Dallas' Texas Book Depository, from which Lee Harvey Oswald shot President John F. Kennedy.
They leave in huge packs of 12,000 to 20,000 volumes jammed into 20-foot sea containers bound for any of 57 countries in Africa, Asia, South America, the Caribbean and Eastern Europe.
The books -- printed in English and mostly educational -- are free, but part of the shipping costs are paid by recipients.
"We charge $14,000 on the average for packaging and shipping a 20-foot sea container full of books," said Ungvarsky. "It actually costs us $25,000. So we're always looking for donations to cover the difference. The container can hold $250,000 worth of books."
Eighty publishers donate the books, largely textbook remainders or unsold new books. Large donors include Random House and Simon & Schuster Inc. The companies, including the Johns Hopkins Press, Watermark Press and Waverly Inc. in Maryland, receive tax write-offs from the Internal Revenue Service.
"We feel there's a lot of value to making the information included in our publications available to the people in developing countries, particularly where quality of health care is so low," said Carolyn Donohue, president of Waverly International. The division of Waverly Inc. publishes only books about medicine and the health sciences, she said, and she believes that health needs in the Third World deserve "a lot of attention."
At the Book Bank, a small library in the office section houses books that are representative of many more stored or being prepared for shipment.
"We have 4,500 titles in our library," Ungvarsky said. "They represent from 20 copies to thousands of copies in the warehouse."
These titles are typical: "The Essentials of College Mathematics," "Rehabilitative Medicine," "Exploring Music" and "Bambi."
The Book Bank always has about 1.5 million volumes on hand in the Central Avenue warehouse where three workers toil. Three workers in the front office complete the staff of six.
"Our book list system is what makes us unique" among book donating charities, Ungvarsky said.
Publishers fill out forms offering IBB books. IBB accepts some volumes, rejects others considered not useful. Foreign book users request books and mark IBB's book list. IBB can fill many requests but not all.
In trips overseas, Ungvarsky has inspected usage. "In Kyrgyzstan, in the former Soviet Union, first-graders spoke to me in English."
She visited a school in Tirana, Albania. "It was so sad," she said. "They really loved books and showed me how much. Two classes of seventh- and eighth-graders performed just for me for 1 1/2 hours. They did skits, recited poetry, told stories. Two boys did a drum solo. All from memory, all to show they loved the books."
Donated book programs are not new. Larry Koralik, a Chicago publisher, got the idea for IBB on a Jamaica vacation. He noticed the lack of books in the poor country. He shipped free books there, then realized they weren't distributed well.
He heard of an international development agency in Canada, CODE, for the Canadian Organization for Development through Education. It had a sophisticated distribution system for its many programs, and Koralik decided IBB's books and CODE's delivery system were a good match.
Formed in 1987, IBB moved to Baltimore in 1990 because of the port, the proximity to Washington and the slogan "The City That Reads." It was in Dundalk before moving to Linthicum last year. Its first book left town in 1991.
Books aside, the annual budget is $780,000, of which $403,000 is a grant from CODE.
IBB and the International Reading Association began Project Love last year among schoolchildren in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, South Carolina and Washington state. The students donate packets containing notebooks, pencils, rulers and erasers for needy children receiving the books. Officials hope to expand.
The group says sorry but no thanks if you want to donate your own new or used books. These aren't wanted at the Book Bank. It needs new books in multiple copies, titles such as "The Legal Environment of Business."
Pub Date: 10/21/96