First Book Announces First Book Needs Index: New Research Tool Synthesizes Public and Proprietary Data to Reveal Complexity of Poverty and “Resource Deserts” Affecting Kids in Need

First Book Needs Index is the first of multiple tools that will comprise First Book Insights, a planned multi-solution suite that connects First Book’s 25 years of expertise with best-in-class analytical tools

WASHINGTON, June 15, 2017 – First Book, the nonprofit social enterprise founded to address educational inequity, today announced the First Book Needs Index, a dynamic mapping tool developed in partnership with Palantir Technologies, a leading data integration platform, that integrates publicly available poverty statistics with First Book’s proprietary data set of programs and classrooms serving children in need. The fully searchable, interactive system allows stakeholders and investors to direct resources to underserved communities with new precision, as well as identify and understand “resource deserts”—areas where access to resources is especially scarce. The First Book Needs Index is one of multiple analytical assets that will comprise First Book Insights, the organization’s planned research hub that will leverage First Book’s expertise in providing low-income communities with access to high-quality, brand-new affordable books and educational resources.

“In our 25 years of work with educators serving children from low-income neighborhoods, we know that the challenges of poverty aren’t just determined by a lack of financial resources – access to books, adequate schools, healthcare, and food also deeply affect a child’s opportunity to learn,” said Kyle Zimmer, First Book president, CEO and co-founder. “Our work with Palantir Technologies to conceptualize and develop the First Book Needs Index has been transformative in giving us a powerful tool to visualize and understand the dimensions of need across the country. This promises to be a game-changer – both to advance First Book’s mission and to provide funders and stakeholders the opportunity for significantly greater community and social impact.”

The First Book Needs Index integrates several powerful databases into a single system:

Publicly available data that measures the multiple dimensions of poverty. Information on the gaps in basic living needs includes income data from the U.S. Census, public housing distribution data from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, free and reduced-price lunch and summer feeding program data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and statistics on access to health insurance. Additional statistics provide measurements of educational need, including data on access to public libraries, access to computer or Internet services, and the locations of Title I schools. All data is searchable down to the county level, and the measures can be dynamically weighted to create visualizations of the varying dimensions of poverty in specific locations. Additional publicly available data sets will be periodically added to the tool.

First Book’s primary-source insights from educators who work with children in need. Through proprietary surveys and focus groups of First Book’s highly-engaged and responsive membership of more than 325,000 educators, First Book has aggregated an unparalleled bank of knowledge on the needs and characteristics of low-income communities. First Book data can be filtered by the ages of the children served, program focus, languages spoken, geography, demographics, and the professional role of the registered educator.

Geolocation of partner sites. The First Book Needs Index can also integrate partner databases, to allow for visualization of need specific to the communities in which they are located.

Integrating these data sets into a dynamic, searchable tool reveals the complexity of poverty and the many pervasive factors that can impede children’s future success. For example, when the First Book Needs Index metrics are set to focus on basic needs – such as income, housing, food and healthcare security – 41 percent (1,273) of all U.S. counties index as having above average need. But when the metrics are reset to focus on educational needs – defined as access to public libraries and the density of Title I schools – the percentage jumps to nearly 60 percent (1,823 counties). Through the First Book Needs Index, stakeholders can identify need and direct resources to underserved communities with unprecedented precision.

The First Book Needs Index is the inaugural product launch from First Book Insights, the organization’s umbrella research hub. First Book Insights tools and analytics will enable further understanding of the needs of low-income areas, allowing the public and partners to see where educational resources are most needed in their communities and across the country. First Book uses direct feedback from educators serving children in need to inform the selection of books and resources on the First Book Marketplace, the organization’s award-winning nonprofit ecommerce site that enables affordable access to these needed materials.

Zimmer previewed the First Book Needs Index yesterday at the Campaign for Grade Level Reading Funder Huddle in Denver.

“Lack of access to books and libraries in low-income communities is a major barrier to early school success and reading proficiency by the end of third grade,” said Ralph Smith, managing director of the Campaign for Grade Level Reading. “The Campaign applauds the First Book Needs Index because it gives communities a way to bust through those barriers and get more low-income children on the path to reading proficiency by the end of third grade.”

First Book is conducting demonstrations of the First Book Needs Index by appointment. Inquiries can be sent to


About First Book

First Book transforms the lives of children in need. Through a sustainable, market-driven model, First Book is creating equal access to quality education — making everything from brand-new, high-quality books and educational resources, to sports equipment and snacks, affordable to its member network of more than 325,000 educators who exclusively serve kids in need. Since 1992, First Book has distributed more than 160 million books and educational resources to programs and schools serving children from low-income families in more than 30 countries. First Book currently reaches an average of 3 million children every year and supports more than one in four of the estimated 1.3 million educators serving children in need. With an additional 1,000 educators joining each week, First Book is the largest and fastest-growing network of educators in the United States exclusively serving kids in need.

Eligible educators, librarians, providers, and others serving children in need can sign up at For more information, please visit or follow the latest news on Facebook and Twitter.

Media Contacts:
Melanie Boyer
First Book