Treasured, not trashed

When it comes to all of the moving next summer at the Verona Area School District, books aren’t exempt.

But some of them won’t be staying in the district – instead, high school librarian Teresa Voss is donating 4,500 pounds of books to the Rotary Club of Madison, which will ship them across the world through Books for the World.

Books for the World is a national project organized by regional chapters of Rotary International. Since beginning in Texas in 2000, discarded books from schools and libraries in the U.S. have been distributed by the project to over 25 countries in southern Africa, Central and South America, as well as India, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The Rotary Club of Madison supervises Wisconsin’s Books for the World initiative, which began in 2007. The state’s program has shipped over two million pounds of books from 200 libraries valued at over $20 million.

Thom Weiss, who oversees the project, said most of the books Verona donates will end up going to Africa. In the past the Rotary received donations of between 10 to 30 boxes from the district at a time. This time, Voss collected 150 boxes of books from the schools, each weighing around 30 pounds.

Voss sought to find a new home for the books instead of throwing them away.

Initially, she tried to sell the books, but after finding out resellers weren’t interested, she decided she could donate them to the Rotary.

Books were also collected from other schools, including New Century Charter School and Verona Area International School, which both will be moving to the current K-Wing building of the high school next fall.

District custodian Greg Lahn helped transport the boxes to the Books for the World warehouse on the east side of Madison.

“We have worked together before and we always have fun together, so when she called me to help, I immediately said yes,” Lahn said, “You couldn’t work for a nicer person, so when she called me up, it wasn’t a matter of if I’d do it, it was when and how.”

In high demand

Math, science, chemistry, English, language arts and world history textbooks are all requested. Weiss said donations shouldn’t be too U.S.-centric – students in Kenya do not need to study U.S. history, he explained.

The Rotary also accepts library books, particularly general fiction, Weiss said. Donations of pop culture books focused on people such as athletes, movie stars and other celebrities are discouraged, but Weiss said story books for children are sought after donations.

Weiss said many teachers who receive these books in Africa report they have never had books to teach from before, and that the children who get them have sometimes never held a book before.

“In our society, it’s so easy for kids to get books,” he said. “When you go to some of these countries, the need, desire and appreciation by these kids just getting a little picture book into their hands is magnificent. It becomes a prized possession.”

Bringing it to life

Four Rotary volunteers were waiting for Voss and Lahn when they arrived, ready to unload the truck. Sorting tables and pallets were ready, and volunteers shrink-wrapped the pallets in plastic once full. Altogether, the 150 boxes of books filled seven and a half pallets.

Voss said seeing inside the warehouse brought the donation process to life for her.

Despite moving the books during one of the coldest days of December, both Voss and Lahn said they had fun and would be happy to go through the donation process again.

“It really couldn’t have happened without a lot of us working together,” Voss said. “Support from district staff, custodial staff manpower, support from teachers knowing that even if we couldn’t sell the materials they still had a nice home to go to.”

Neal Patten, Verona Community Reporter, can be contacted at