Bernie’s Book Bank founder and executive director Brian Floriani has come a long way since running golf schools in Lake Tahoe and West Palm Beach.
Floriani launched Bernie’s Book Bank just over five years ago in honor of his father, Dr. Bernard P. Floriani, or “Bernie,” who passed suddenly 10 years ago. Bernie’s parents were both immigrants and raised eight children in a two-bedroom house with no running water. When he was a child, Bernie turned to books, and that practice framed the rest of his life. He eventually went to college, and earned several degrees before earning his doctorate in reading education.
“When he died, a lot of a things started to change for me,” Floriani says. “I started thinking about what I should be doing and who I should be serving.”
Floriani left his golf job and took up teaching at an elementary school in Zion. That was where he realized the need for books in the community.
“I realized I could probably be more impactful outside of the walls of the school, so I really zeroed in on books,” Floriani says. “It’s staggering how much the lack of book ownership in this country impacts everyone, and it’s a solvable problem.”
Floriani originally launched the project in his garage, and in the first 12 months, distributed 140,000 books to children in need. Now, Bernie’s Book Bank serves 110,000 children with 12 quality books a year. Floriani expects about two million books to go through his doors this year.
“We have to turn to the people and educate the public about how important what we’re doing is,” Floriani says. “People are very charitable.”
Things have gone so well that Bernie’s Book Bank has expanded to a new location in Lake Bluff, which is seven times the size of the current building.
“The new location will allow us to do three things,” Floriani says. “First, it’ll get us to where we need to be book-wise. Second, it will allow a self-sustainable funding model, and third, it will allow us to become a premier volunteer destination here in Chicago.”
The new location features a large processing center, event space, and storage for 700 pallets of books. Currently, Bernie’s Book Bank has a staff of 14 with 17 board members and thousands of volunteers. Donations are accepted daily at their facility, as well as several locations throughout Lake County.