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Finding a welcome home for used books

With volunteer effort, David Mazor's idea has helped readers around the U.S.

By Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / July 25, 2008

Boxes and boxes: Intern Meredith Wilson sorts through books for the Reader to Reader program on the campus of Amherst College, Mass.

ann hermes/the Christian Science Monitor

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Amherst, Mass.

It all started with a stack of books that needed a home.

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David Mazor had some leftovers after collecting book donations for his daughter's state college. He Googled "poorest state" and came up with Mississippi. He searched for its poorest town and up popped Durant, a tiny thumbprint near the road connecting Memphis and New Orleans.

The next morning he called the town's high school librarian and asked if they needed any books. "At our school," he recalls her saying, "if someone wants to learn about landing on the moon, we don't have any books that current."

Eight years later, you'd need a shelf about 30 times the length of Durant's main drag to hold the 2,000,000 new and gently used books Mr. Mazor has distributed throughout the United States.

Each delivery is like a rain shower on thirsty land: School library spending per student has declined about 40 percent since 2000, to $11.24, according to the American Library Association.

At first, friends' donations landed in Mazor's garage, where he matched them to librarians' wish lists and shipped them off, charging postage to his credit card.

"It was so exciting to see how much the schools responded to what we were sending," he says, delight flashing across his face. "My wife thought I was kind of crazy because I woke up in the middle of the night and said, 'I know what I'm going to do!' " He shifted away from his work as a film distributor and launched a nonprofit, Reader to Reader, to sustain his matchmaking efforts.

Growing up in a family that loved to read, Mazor couldn't tolerate so many children lacking books. "In affluent communities, people were often just sort of tossing the books away because they didn't know what to do with them," he says. "We could match up that need with that resource."

It's a simple idea, but for librarians like Carla Clauschee, no one had ever proposed it before. When Mazor called her at Navajo Pine High School in Navajo, N.M., telling her he could send books, she replied, "That's great – but I can't pay for them."

Ms. Clauschee agreed to his offer because she was "really desperate," she says. Every librarian can tell horror stories of useless donations showing up at their doorstep, so "when somebody comes along and genuinely wants to help ... you have to think positive. You have to think that the box that's coming is not moth-eaten." Thanks to her trust, a once "prehistoric" collection has been updated over the past seven years with more than 7,000 books, including collections of native American literature.

"We want every single box of books that a school opens to be in absolutely fantastic condition, to be like a Christmas present," Mazor says as he casts his eye around the basement book haven that serves as Reader to Reader headquarters.

The group long ago moved out of Mazor's garage to the storage area of Amherst College's Cadigan Center for Religious Life, a squat brick building on the edge of campus. The college donated the space and some computers, and also coordinates student work-study jobs and internships here.

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