February 25, 2013; Source: WREG-Memphis

According to Memphis, Tenn. CBS affiliate WREG, the United States Postal Service (USPS) has begun shredding undeliverable books that a Memphis charity was attempting to send to area children. The charity, Books from Birth, promotes kindergarten readiness by providing age-appropriate books for all children from birth to age five. Any interested family in Memphis can sign up to receive one book per month delivered through the mail. Over 34,000 families are currently enrolled in the program. A partnership between the Governor’s Books from Birth Foundation and hometown celebrity Dolly Parton’s foundation, Imagination Library, makes the endeavor financially feasible.

The charity sends the books to participants via bulk mail. Typically, items that are sent via bulk rate are destroyed by the USPS if they are deemed undeliverable. However, over the past several years, the local post office had allowed Books from Birth volunteers to pick up books that were deemed undeliverable because of bad addresses or other reasons. The group would then work to find updated addresses or use the books to supply other community reading efforts. Recently, a new postmaster for the area decided that the local USPS will start to follow official procedures and shred the undeliverable books.

Unsurprisingly, that decision is not sitting well with the Books from Birth group. Peter Abell, executive director of Shelby County Books From Birth, told WREG, “It costs more money to package it and have it destroyed then let us have it back.” The local post office has not provided their side of the story yet, but the Shelby County Books from Birth group is fighting the decision with a petition, via social media, and with a media outreach push. An open letter from Abell on the group’s website details how they are trying to open up a dialogue with the post office on the matter, but as of yet they have reportedly not even received the courtesy of a return phone call. Abell’s letter states that nearly 1,000 books a month stand to be destroyed, but he explains that avoiding the shredder by moving to first class postage would render the program financially impractical.

While this is clearly a revenue issue for the financially beleaguered Postal Service, it’s unimaginable that they would err on the side of destroying children’s books (or any books, really), particularly those partially funded by a taxpayer charity. The importance of books and the benefits of early childhood literacy cannot be overstated and the local community is not happy with this turn of events. Perhaps the uproar surrounding the issue will cause the USPS to cut through the bureaucracy and rethink its unfortunate stance. –Kathleen Hughes