Founded in Zurich, Switzerland in 1953, the International Board on Books for Young People (I.B.B.Y.) is comprised today of seventy National Sections all over the world. It represents countries with well-developed book publishing and literacy programs, and other countries with only a few dedicated professionals who are pioneers in the field of publishing and promoting children's books.
The I.B.B.Y. was the brainchild of Jella Lepman (1891-1973), who had already founded the Internationale Jugendbibliothek München (“International Youth Library in Munich”) in 1949. She was a Jewish-German journalist and widow of the German-American businessman Gustav Horace Lepman (1877-1922).
In 1936, she fled Nazi Germany with their two children and settled in England. At the outbreak of the Second Great World War, she worked first for the Foreign Office, then the BBC, and finally for a radio station established by the U.S. Government, as recounted by one of her biographers, Walter Scherf.
In October of 1945, she returned to Germany, specifically to Bad Homburg in the American Zone of Occupation, with the U.S. Army as Advisor for Women and Youth’s Issues with the rank of major. In July of 1946, she opened a traveling exhibit on children’s books in Munich that traveled to Stuttgart, Frankfurt, Hanover, and Berlin.
She briefly worked as an editor for the magazine Today, but the success of the exhibit led to her founding the International Youth Library in Munich in 1948 with the support of the Rockefeller Foundation and the Free State of Bavaria. Mrs. Lepman served as Director of the International Youth Library until 1957.
Having founded the International Board on Books for Young People in 1953, she created I.B.B.Y.’s international children’s book prize, the Hans Christian Andersen Medal, in 1956, and I.B.B.Y.’s journal Bookbird in 1957. She moved to Zurich in 1959 to devote her time to I.B.B.Y. (as Honorary President) and the Hans Christian Andersen Medal. She also translated Richard Avedon and Truman Capote.
The National Sections of I.B.B.Y. are organized in many different ways and operate on national, regional, and international levels. In countries that do not have a National Section, individual membership in I.B.B.Y. is possible.
The membership of the National Sections include authors and illustrators of children’s books, publishers and editors, translators, journalists and critics, teachers, university professors and students, librarians, booksellers, social workers, and parents.
I.B.B.Y.'s Executive Committee determines its policies and programs. The I.B.B.Y. Executive Committee is comprised of ten people from different countries and a president, elected biennially by the National Sections at a General Assembly during the I.B.B.Y. Congresses.
They work on a voluntary basis. The daily management of I.B.B.Y.'s affairs is conducted from its Secretariat in Basel, Switzerland.
The annual dues from the National Sections are I.B.B.Y.'s only source of regular income. Independent financing is necessary to support I.B.B.Y. activities.
As a non-governmental organization (N.G.O.) with an official status in U.N.E.S.C.O. (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) and U.N.I.C.E.F. (United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund), I.B.B.Y. has a policy-making role as an advocate of children's books. I.B.B.Y. is committed to the principles of the International Convention on the Rights of the Child, ratified by the United Nations in 1990.
One of its main proclamations is the right of the child to a general education and to direct access to information. Thanks to I.B.B.Y.’s insistence, the resolution includes an appeal to all countries to promote the production and distribution of children's books. I.B.B.Y. also cooperates with many international organizations and children's book institutions around the world and exhibits at the La fiera del libro per ragazzi (“International Children's Book Fair”) in Bologna and other international book fairs.