Friday, July 15, 2011

Reader to Reader makes another massive donation of books to Navajo Nation

By Nick Grabbe
Daily Hampshire Gazette

AMHERST - A truck loaded with 15,000 donated books left Amherst Tuesday and is expected to arrive at the Navajo Nation Library in Window Rock, Ariz., this Friday.

The books were collected by Reader to Reader, an Amherst organization that since 2002 has distributed at no cost an estimated 4.5 million volumes in the U.S. and 13 countries.

Speaking by phone from the road in southern Illinois Thursday, Library Director Irving Nelson said he and employee Everett Tsosie flew to Massachusetts on Monday and rented a 26-foot truck. This is the third truckload of 15,000 books that they have driven cross-country after David Mazor, the Reader to Reader executive director, collected them, he said.

"David is a tremendously important person to the Navajo Nation," he said. "We wouldn't be able to get these quality books from any other source."

The library, which is near the New Mexico border, serves a population of 300,000 people spread out over 26,000 square miles in three states, Nelson said. The library's budget goes almost exclusively to staff, and includes just $6,000 a year to buy books, he said.

Each trip to Amherst and back costs about $4,000, but the library is able to acquire high-quality books worth about $100,000 at no charge, Nelson said. The library has replaced its entire fiction collection with books from Reader to Reader, and has donated duplicate copies to boys and girls clubs and adult and youth detention centers in the Navajo Nation, he said.

Mazor made a special effort to find books that library users had requested: children's books, ones about sports, and novels by Stephen King. In addition, author and National Book Award winner Peter Matthiessen, who knows one of Reader to Reader's board members, donated about 1,500 of his own books about Native American history and culture. They were included in this week's shipment.

Reader to Reader operates out of Amherst College's Cadigan Center on Woodside Avenue in Amherst. The organization stores about 10,000 books at a time there, and often gets walk-in donations, Mazor said.

Mazor and his volunteers also acquire books by scanning sales at homes and libraries, and increasingly they are working with major publishers such as Random House to acquire new copies, he said. Reader to Reader also gets donated books from organizations like Mystery Writers of America, he said.

Reader to Reader donated more than a million books to schools and libraries in New Orleans in response to Hurricane Katrina. Last September, it donated $50,000 worth of books to a school library in Shiprock, N.M., that was destroyed in a suspicious fire.

The organization has expanded beyond the U.S. borders and has donated books in Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Costa Rica, India, Kosovo, Kenya, Ghana and other countries, Mazor said. It is interested in locating books in Creole for shipment to Haiti, he said.

He's also looking for history books, children's books, and volumes on health that are less than five years old, he said. He's a stickler for books in excellent condition.

For the shipment to the Navajo Nation, Reader to Reader went through 200,000 donated books before deciding on 15,000. It hopes to make another donation of 15,000 books in October and has pledged to donate a total of 100,000, Mazor said,

"David goes through every book to select books for this library," said Nelson. "And he's been to Window Rock several times, and recognizes the books in the library when he comes."

Daily Hampshire Gazette © 2011 All rights reserved

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