Saturday, November 7, 2009

Reading relay: 10,000 books from Valley project on way to Navajo Nation readers

Nick Grabbe
staff writer
Daily Hampshire Gazette

AMHERST - Thousands of books from local library sales made their way across the country this week, headed for Navajo readers 2,300 miles away.

Reader to Reader, an Amherst organization that has collected and given away 2.5 million books in the past eight years, received a visit this week from Irving Nelson of the Navajo Nation Library in Window Rock, Ariz.

On Tuesday, he and an associate rented a 26-foot truck and loaded 10,000 books, along with 10 computers donated by Amherst College, into it.

On Friday, they were expected to arrive in Window Rock, which is on the New Mexico border. Nelson will catalog the books and make them available to 280,000 people who live in the 27,000-square-mile Navajo area.

"We are a book-rich community, and we have so many libraries," said David Mazor, founder and executive director of Reader to Reader. "They have one central library with responsibility for a massive area. This is something that we have a surplus of that we can share with them."

Reader to Reader acquired two-thirds of the books by screening 100,000 volumes left over from sales in Amherst, Northampton, Sunderland, Belchertown and Granby, Mazor said. The Mystery Writers of America donated 2,000 books, and the 7,000 people on the organization's email list contributed most of the rest.

Amherst College employees have previously used the donated computers, and they have been refurbished and given new software, Mazor said. They will double the number of computers at the Navajo Nation Library.

"The books will get heavily used," said Nelson. "They'll go out across the entire Navajo Nation. People will come long distances for them. And we don't have enough computers to meet the needs of our people."

About half of the books are for children and young readers, the age range where the library gets the most use. Nelson provides books to 125 elementary schools in the Navajo area, some seven hours away from Window Rock, he said. In addition to the mysteries, there are about 80 art books and lots of cookbooks and volumes on Native Americans, Mazor said.

The library has 73,000 books, plus magazines, newspapers and a reference section that gets inquiries from all over the world, Nelson said. Mazor said he has set a goal of providing the library with 100,000 books and 100 computers over the next five years.

"This for us is just the start," he said.

Reader to Reader is based at Amherst College's Cadigan Center for Religious Life on Woodside Avenue. Last May, Mazor took a group of Amherst students to the Navajo area; he is planning another trip in March.

The Navajo Nation is paying the expenses of flying two people from Albuquerque to Bradley International Airport, and the $2,600 cost of renting the truck. Transporting the books this way is more cost-effective than shipping them, Mazor said.

"This is so gratifying," Nelson said. "I'm not going to even see the impact on the kids, but I've seen photographs of them with the books. That makes it all worthwhile. In the long hours driving home, we'll be imagining smiles like that all over the Navajo Nation."

Mazor insists that all the used books he donates be in excellent condition, almost like new ones. Reader to Reader has supplied books to 400 schools and community libraries across the United States, and is about to launch its first overseas program in rural Costa Rica, he said. It donates more than 1,000 books a week to schools and libraries in Holyoke, Chicopee, Springfield and West Springfield, he said.

"Our mission just continues to expand," Mazor said. "The demand in the recession is greater than ever."

The Navajo campaign has been one of the most enjoyable ones he's been involved in, he said.

"We worked together on strategies of what books to collect and a vision of what the drive should be," he said. "It's a lot of fun, and I'm excited to be growing this program."

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