UI shipping textbooks to countries in need

UI shipping textbooks to countries in need

URBANA – Zumdahl's "Introductory Chemistry": $115.93.

Kohls' "Marketing of Agricultural Products": $108.93.

Freedman's "Statistics": $107.52.

Free textbooks to developing countries, courtesy of the University of Illinois: Priceless.

New and – even used – textbook prices can be staggering, particularly to students in places like Afghanistan, where they attend lectures in buildings without electricity or running water.

In recent months, UI faculty and staff members have collected and donated tens of thousands of dollars' worth of textbooks to universities and libraries around the world.

Most of the textbooks are a couple of years old, extra copies donated to the UI for teaching assistants or professors.

Some current book donation projects:

– The General Chemistry Department has shipped hundreds of textbooks to Afghanistan and is planning to send more.

– The College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences is preparing to send a 20-foot shipping container loaded with 10,000 to 15,000 pounds of books to Egypt later this summer.

– N. Narayana Rao, the Edward C. Jordan Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the UI, is spending five weeks teaching an electrical engineering course to students at AMRITA University in Coimbatore, India. He also donated new copies of the Indian edition of his textbook, "Elements of Engineering Electromagnetics."

"Why I decided to donate books is for the same reason that I am committed to providing knowledge as a service to the 'young minds,' who are going to be future engineers, scientists, educators, and most of all, leaders. This all emanates from 'gratitude,'" Rao wrote in an e-mail from Coimbatore.

Because books can be so valuable to students and teachers and it takes only a few hours to sort and ship them, why not do it, said Aaron Benjamin, associate professor in the Psychology Department.

He and Ann Harvey, the Psychology Department's librarian, have sent batches of books to countries such as Ghana and Afghanistan over the years.

"It's just such a low-cost thing to do, both in terms of time and money for me and (Harvey). It's such a potentially big thing even if half the books don't get through," Benjamin said.

UI chemistry Professor Paul Kelter, director of a worldwide organization of chemistry educators, learned from colleague Col. Patricia Dooley that universities in Afghanistan were in need of textbooks for their students. Dooley, a chemistry professor at West Point, worked this summer with faculty at the National Military Academy of Afghanistan and Kabul University in Afghanistan.

Kelter's secretary, Keena Finney, and other staff members in the office spearheaded an effort to send books to Afghanistan. Finney contacted faculty and staff in various UI departments and gathered not only chemistry books, but also statistics, psychology and other texts.

"Knowledge is good. Helping devastated areas recover so their young people can learn, build and grow is part of the educator's heart," Kelter said.

At the National Military Academy, the chemistry textbook was "a Xerox copy of a Dari-language handwritten 60- or 70-page treatise on chemistry," Dooley in an e-mail before returning to the U.S. this week. At Kabul University, the labs had no windows as they were all broken from artillery fire.

"Books were either burned or destroyed by the Taliban and the vagaries of war," she wrote. "Offering (the chemistry department head) textbooks from America was like offering a lifesaver to a drowning man. They will be extraordinarily grateful for any assistance we can offer them; they want like heck to pick themselves up and regain the illustrious status enjoyed by Kabul University in the '60s and '70s," she wrote.

At the College of ACES, UI graduate student Sara Egan and others are sorting through piles of journal collections and other books destined for overseas.

The UI and Purdue University, as part of the Agricultural Exports for Rural Income Linkage Project, which is funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development, are collecting thousands of books to send to Egypt.

The project's goals are to train and link farmer organizations to export products as well as to help upgrade agricultural courses at Egyptian schools by training the teachers, said Egan, a project assistant.

"Most books are focusing on agriculture, agricultural economics, vet med, plant biology. Most are from professors who have retired or professors who are moving offices," Egan said.

Just how many journals and books? It could be several thousand. The container will weigh several tons.

"We try to share when we can," said David Griffiths, assistant government information librarian at the UI.

Through networking, UI librarians often work with librarians around the world to donate extra copies of books because many libraries in developing countries are built entirely by donations.

Griffiths said he has heard stories about libraries where entire collections are checked out because of high demand, where patrons line up outside the library's front door before it opens.

In fall 2005, the UI Library sent 270 books, about $11,000 worth, to the University of Hawaii at Manoa after a flood wiped out its government document collection.

The books were largely extra copies of books the UI had received at no cost – such as the United Nations' Yearbook on Human Rights.

"We knew if we hung on to them, there'd be a situation like this and they'd be needed," Griffiths said.

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