As nightstand "To Be Read" piles grow and donation boxes expand, readers are consuming more and more books each year. At the same time, the publishing industry still faces a looming threat to the production of physical books, caused by paper and industry shortages, all while millions of children lack access to books of their own, whether at home or at school and public libraries. That all effects national literacy, with 43 million adults possessing low literacy skills, according to the National Center of Education.

What does this mean for those of us who are cleaning out our libraries this spring? Literacy advocates say it's an opportunity to be a little more aware of our donation's impact — and to act accordingly.

Molly Ness, for example, is a literacy advocate and founder of the Coalition for Literacy Equity, a coalition of nonprofits, literacy advocates, authors, and others involved in cultivating stronger literacy and reading culture for children and families around the country. Ness also created the associated initiative and podcast End Book Deserts, which highlights the work of organizations and grassroots campaigns working to get books in the hands of children to foster reading development. Before her present literacy work, Ness was a professor of literacy education for 16 years at Fordham University, and got involved in on-the-ground campaigns like the neighborhood book drives she coordinated in her own front yard. Those grassroots initiatives inspired her to find other effective ways to help get books into the hands of people around the country and involve others, as well.

"In my work, as a teacher, educator, and just constantly thinking about literacy, I came across statistics that show the lack of books is an addressable issue. I am specifically referring to the research around book deserts, which is largely written about by Susan Newman, professor at New York University," Ness explained. Book deserts refer to geographic areas where printed reading materials are hard to obtain due to structural or social barriers, like transportation, income, library access, or language. According to data by nonprofits Unite for Literacy and Room to Read, at least half of American homes are typified as book deserts. The nonprofit's definition (having access to less than 100 books) applies to individual homes within corridors of underserved areas in various parts of the country. The numbers are also starkly different based on income and race. "Literacy is an issue of public health and an issue of social justice. Where we are as a country with regard to literacy rates, reading instruction, and the decline of reading in general has really huge ramifications on us in terms of health and our economy," Ness said.

Read the full article about boosting literacy by Chase DiBenedetto at Mashable.