Lipscomb books bound for Africa

Wednesday, June 29, 2005 at 1:00am

Textbooks that might otherwise end up in American landfills are getting a second or even third life in faraway places where any kind of book is a valued item.

This year, students at Lipscomb University sent about 1,000 pounds of books to Africa through a nonprofit company called Books for Africa.

The book drive was initiated by Joe Garcia, the textbook manager in the school's bookstore, which is operated by Follet Higher Education Group, a division of Follet Corp., in Rivergrove, Ill.

Garcia said he found out about the Books for Africa program while attending a gathering of the National Association of College Stores in Atlanta in early April.

"I have been looking for something more resourceful to do with the books that were being discarded and was excited to discover this program at the conference," he said. "We're very pleased to have an outlet other than the dumpster."

Garcia explained that books have a lifecycle. When they reach the end of their usefulness in the classroom and can no longer be sold back to the bookstore, some of them can be sold to companies that buy used textbooks. The books that these companies reject are normally just thrown out.

"This program enables us to put those books to excellent use," Garcia said. "In those countries, these books will be like gold."

The Books for Africa program, which works in partnership with Better World Books, pays to pack and ship the books to Africa, where they go to help children learn how to read, filling library and school bookshelves.

Books for Africa has funded the shipment of more than 500,000 books to Africa since 2003.

Garcia rolled out the program at Lipscomb in time for the student "book buy-back" period at the end of the semester in late April. The response to the book drive exceeded expectations, he said.

"Students were donating not only books they could no longer get money for, but also books that still had some market value," Garcia said. These were books that might fetch $2 to $10 apiece, certainly money that students could use but decided to contribute - through their used books - to Books for Africa instead.

Garcia said normally he would collect only one box of books to be discarded, with students either keeping or discarding the rest on their own. This spring, though, he collected two large pallets filled with books.

"We had a tremendous response and were able to donate about 1,000 pounds of books. We are very optimistic about this program and will probably be continuing to participate in the years to come," he said.

Several other Follet bookstores participated in the Books to Africa program this year, and the company has also been involved with a similar program called Bridge to Asia.

The company may expand the Books for Africa program to even more of its stores, according to Clifford Ewert, vice president of public and campus relations for Follet Higher Education Group, which manages more than 700 college bookstores in the United States and Canada (including Tennessee State University and Vanderbilt University in Nashville).

"I know Joe had great success with the program and we know, overall, Books for Africa has been a successful program," Ewert said.

Patrick Plonski, executive director of Books for Africa, said his organization and Follet have cooperated before, especially with Follet books for grades K-12 being sent to Africa.

"We've had a great partnership and look forward to expanding it," he said, following meetings with Follet's Ewert.

Due to limited space and workers, Lipscomb is no longer collecting donated books at this time, though it will resume the program at the end of the fall semester in December.

"Our involvement in this program is especially important," Garcia said, "because Lipscomb is an institution that was founded on Christian principles. It is essential for us to find ways to live out our beliefs. This program provides such a chance."

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