By Lemanuel Loley
A truckload of 15,000 books worth $100,000 arrived at the Navajo Nation Library on Monday morning.
The books were donated by Reader to Reader, a nonprofit literacy organization based in Amherst, Mass., that builds library and school resources across the United States and in 13 countries.
The load was personally delivered by Irving Nelson, library director, and assistant Everett Etsitty, who flew to Massachusetts on July 11 and spent the next day loading a 26-foot rental truck to carry the donation back to Arizona.
The drive back took four days, with Nelson and Etsitty alternating shifts on three 18-hour days and the final 12-hour drive.
It was the third time Nelson has made such a haul. The first donation, totaling 15,000 books, came in November 2009 and was followed by another 15,000 in July 2010. The new shipment brings the number of donated inventory to 45,000, valued at half a million dollars.
This brings the total number of volumes in the 14-year-old Navajo Nation Library to more than 75,000, including an oral history section that can be accessed by request.
The new shipment of books and DVDs includes a special collection of 16 boxes of Native American books and papers donated by two-time National Book Award winner Peter Matthiessen, who wrote "In the Spirit of Crazy Horse."
The donation also contains the works of many highly regarded children's authors including Jane Yolen, Mo Willems, Norton Juster, Alice Schertle and Susan Pearson.
The latest shipment of books was chosen from a broad assortment of 200,000 books. Nelson worked closely with David Mazor, founder of Reader to Reader, to decide what books were to be donated. The collection mainly is made up of Native American literature including Native American history, fiction and poetry.
Mazor discovered the tribal library by accident during a trip to visit reservation school libraries in spring 2009. While visiting the Navajo Nation Museum, Mazor discovered that it also housed the tribe's central library.
Mazor met with Nelson and they discussed the library's need for books.
"I could see how Irving cared so passionately about the library," Mazor said in a telephone interview.
He learned that the tribal library serves 300,000 people a year and has limited funds to expand its offerings.
So Mazor committed his organization to helping out, and is doing so in a big way. Reader to Reader has pledged to donate 100,000 books in a multi-year book drive.
With the most recent donation, it is almost half way to that goal.
Previous Reader to Reader donations have already had a tremendous impact on the library, Nelson said. When the library first opened in 1997, it had 300 visitors a year and now averages 300 a day, he said.
"We replaced our entire fiction section thanks to Reader to Reader," notes Nelson.
The children's section checks out 300 books a day.
"We look forward to continue working with Reader to Reader," Nelson said.
"Everybody who enjoys reading will discover something they're interested in," Mazor said. "Even people who don't like to read could bring their kids to the library."