Bernie’s Book Bank earns Guinness Record for book pyramid

By Gregory Harutunian for Chronicle Media

The pyramid, which was made with 144,000 books was built from the middle core, coming outward and resembled a “Star Wars” battleship at its base. (Photo by Gregory Harutunian/for Chronicle Media)

It took preparation and practice, along with three solid days of construction, but more than 100 volunteers were ready when the big day came. Bernie’s Book Bank in Lake Bluff now holds the new Guinness World Record for the largest book pyramid, consisting of 144,000 books and exceeding the previous record by more than double in number. The achievement was certified July 27 on-site by Guinness Adjudicator, Michael Empric.

The idea came as a way to raise awareness and advocacy for childhood literacy, and the 144 number is significant. It represents the number of new and gently used books provided free to an at-risk child through the sixth grade at a rate of 12 per year. Bernie’s Book Bank is a nonprofit foundation, established in 2009, and is known for big goals as an organization.

“Our mission is to source, process, and distribute children’s books to at-risk kids throughout Chicagoland,” said Marketing and Communications Specialist Elizabeth Blasko.

The idea gained traction when CEO Darrin Utynek, and Ryan Avery, an international speaker with experience in breaking world records, connected. “Our goal with the Breaking History movement is to bring attention to big issues affecting our local communities,” Avery said, in a release. “The team at Bernie’s Book Bank has spent countless hours preparing to break this world record to spotlight the at-risk children they serve.”

As the book pyramid concept took hold, Utynek saw something unique. “Not only does this provide exposure for Bernie’s Book Bank and our mission … I believe the 144,000 book pyramid is another example of our team accomplishing big goals. The entire process was such a team effort, and having the ability to see it through from concept to completion is something our team takes great pride in,” he said. “Getting the world record is amazing!”

Marketing Director Sarna Goldberg stands beside the book pyramid at Bernie’s Book Bank. (Photo by Gregory Harutunian/for Chronicle Media)

The 35,000-square foot facility, located at 917 North Shore Drive in Lake Bluff, where Bernie’s Book Bank has operated since January 2016, became home base for the build. Blasko noted that planning took almost one year.

“By July 15, we practiced building the pyramid, putting it together. Construction began with the middle core area, and worked outward,” Blasko said.

Enter Guinness World Records to certify the project.

“It was all started by the Guinness Brewery in 1950, although the record books are now a separate entity,” said Empric. “It is third most read book in the world, behind the Holy Bible, and the Holy Quaran. With this project … they knew it immediately. The previous record was 70,427 books. What a beautiful way for the community to come together for an exceptional cause.”

Bernie’s Director of Marketing Sarna Goldberg concurred, while viewing the multi-colored array of stacked books.

“Ryan Avery is always looking for ways to tie community causes to breaking records, and this is magnificent,” Goldberg said. “It raises awareness, it’s a community building effort across more than 100 volunteers from Lake and Cook counties, and a calling card to collect more books for at-risk children in those areas.”

Guinness Book of World Records Adjudicator Michael Empric officiated and certified the 144,000 book pyramid as the new standard. (Photo by Gregory Harutunian/for Chronicle Media)

The building’s atmosphere around the pyramid site was buzzing, as people walked around the base, took pictures, and made new friends. The actual presentation of the world record certificate by Empric, to Utynek and staff members, was the event’s capstone.

“There were so many moving parts to accomplish setting this world record,” said Utynek. “Watching our team orchestrate the coordination of these moving parts was truly remarkable. We are very fortunate to have these incredible team members, volunteers, partners, and sponsors who support our mission, and I am extremely proud of them.”

As for the books used to build the world record pyramid, their next stop is packing and being ready for the hands of children.

In a reception area, a sign for visitors displayed the sentiment: “79 percent of Chicago 8th-graders are not grade level proficient in reading: U.S. Department of Education.”