Thursday, July 12, 2012

Amherst group Reader to Reader sends more books, computers to Navajo Nation

Staff Writer
Daily Hampshire Gazette

Thursday, July 12, 2012

AMHERST - A truck loaded with 15,000 donated books and 21 personal computers left a Holyoke warehouse Monday and is expected to arrive at the Navajo Nation Library in Window Rock, Ariz., on Friday.

From there, the books will be distributed to libraries, schools, community centers and jails over the 26,000-square-mile area with a population of 300,000 in three states. The computers are destined for a school in Thoreau, N.M.

This is the sixth time that library director Irving Nelson has come to the Pioneer Valley to pick up books collected by Reader to Reader of Amherst. Since 2003, the organization has collected and donated 5 million books, worth about $50 million, and about a fifth of them have gone to the Navajo Nation, said David Mazor, the founder and executive director.

"We've made a commitment to these communities to bolster their resources in a substantial way," he said. Reader to Reader has focused on the Navajo Nation because tests of their children's reading ability are substantially below the national average, he said.

It costs the Navajo Nation about $4,000 each time Nelson flies to Bradley International Airport in Windsor Locks, Conn., rents a 26-foot truck, loads it up and drives back to the Southwest. But Mazor estimated the value of the books and computers on this trip at $250,000.

Reader to Reader gets books from publishers, donations and library sales and sometimes buys them, Mazor said. About 40 percent of the 15,000 books on their way to the Navajo Nation are new, while the used computers were donated by Amherst College and have new software in them, he said. Most Navajos do not have computers in their homes, he said.

Mazor visited the Navajo Nation Library last spring to compile a list of books that would strengthen the collection, he said. Reader to Reader spent $2,000 on specific titles that it couldn't acquire by donation, he said.

Nelson was in Harrisburg, Pa., Tuesday morning with Everett Etsitty, a library employee who is helping him drive the truck. Nelson said Mazor has had a big impact on literacy efforts in the Navajo Nation.

"As we're flying over the country, I looked down from the plane and thought how there are millions of people out there, and David is one of those tiny specks down there, but out on the Navajo Nation he's the Jolly Green Giant that towers over the reservation," Nelson said.

Nelson and Etsitty were heading for Washington, D.C., where they expected to pick up more books at the National Museum of the American Indian on Tuesday.

Reader to Reader has its offices at the Cadigan Center for Religious Life at Amherst College, and stores about 10,000 books there. It often gets walk-in donations, Mazor said.

"I get calls almost every day from someone who wants to bring books to us, from all over the area and the country," he said.

Reader to Reader donated more than a million books to schools and libraries in New Orleans in response to Hurricane Katrina. This year, it has donated books to Ghana and Costa Rica, and also to schools in Holyoke, Springfield and Chicopee.

Nelson said Mazor is helping the Navajo Nation at a basic level because reading is the foundation of education.

"We're so fortunate that we're working with him, and it's improving our library tremendously," he said.

Daily Hampshire Gazette © 2012. All rights reserved

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