Books from Wisconsin to the World

December 3, 2013

The Friends of the Libraries Semiannual Book Sale ended on October 19th wrapping up another hugely successful event with lots of interesting and sometimes rare books. (Did you see the line of people waiting on the first day? It’s like Black Friday for the Libraries!) Most of the books donated to the Friends are sold at the sale; but what about the books that aren’t chosen for a good home? What happens to them and where do they go?

In the spirit of the Wisconsin Idea, Jim Dast, manager of the Friends Book Sale, donates books to two primary sources: Better World Books and Rotary International’s Books for the World. As he is preparing for the Friends Book Sale, he examines each book and makes judgments about the saleability based on subject, amount of wear and tear, or year published. Some of these books are not included in the sale because they are better suited to other audiences. Additionally, there are often some books that are “leftover” because they didn’t sell at the sale. Dast then boxes these books up to send to one of the two donation programs, Better World Books and Books for the World. The two programs complement each other, according to Dast, because he can send the more technical subjects to Better World Books, but can count on Books for the World to ensure that most of our humanities and educational children’s material is sent to the right place.

Better World Books accepts any undamaged books with an ISBN number, so Dast can send on the more technical or professional books, like software manuals, business marketing, and language instruction. Books are sold online on the Better World Books website. A percentage of each book sold online is donated to non-profit literacy programs. Unsold books are either donated on to a non-profit partner or recycled if unsuitable for sale or partner use. You can read more about how Better World Books collects and distributes books here. So far, Better World books has donated over 10 million books, raised over 15 million dollars for libraries and literacy programs, and reused or recycled over 117 million books. Better World Books began as a book drive led by two recently graduated friends, and now is a force for enormous change in the world. Read more about the beginnings of Better World Books and its future plans here.

Click here to see a video about the Better World Books beginning

Dast also noted the work of Rotary International’s Books for the World program that he believes also truly embodies the Wisconsin Idea because it ensures that books are sent directly to schools, libraries, and other educational centers all over the world.

Carol and Bob Dombroski coordinate Madison’s book drive for the program. Their interest in a book drive began in 2005, when Carol collected 7 tons (literally!) of books for a program that, in the end, refused them and asked for money instead. Carol and Bob also had an ongoing relationship with the African Studies Department of UW–Madison; they helped teachers visiting from South Africa for science and math training adjust to life in Madison. Volunteering their time and service was a great experience, and they continued by joining the Madison Breakfast Rotary, a local service club part of Rotary International. Bob told us, “The strength of the Rotary is that there are Rotarians in more than 250 countries. We got in touch with Rotarians in Houston, where Books for the World was born, who were working with Rotarians in South Africa where there is a great need for educational materials.”

Bob and Carol proudly noted that recently, they shipped their tenth semi-truckload of books this year (for reference, a semi can carry 22 tons of books!).  “There are four centers in the U.S. like ours that collect books, but we are the second largest collector in the country for Books for the World,” Bob said. He also noted that the number of donations has decreased in Texas and the program there doesn’t have the inventory to meet the demand. Because of this, Madison and UW—Madison Libraries participation is integral to the success of the program. The Libraries are also proud to be one of the only places that donate large pallets of college-level texts, something that Bob and Carol do not receive from anywhere else.

Books for the World ships books to more than 25 countries, including several in southern Africa, the Middle East, and in Central and South America. Rotarians receive the books and make sure the books go where they are intended in order to avoid potential issues of corruption. Carol and Bob routinely receive positive feedback including thank you letters and pictures of children reading their “new” books. They even had the opportunity to travel to Kei Mouth, a small town in rural South Africa, to establish a new library for the school children. Carol said, “The kids couldn’t wait for the library to be finished. We took some books and sat right outside to read to them right then and there. We just take so much for granted here.”

Dast reported that he values these two programs, because “I like to be able to say that we do something positive here with our leftover books and know that we’re making a difference all over the world.”

Want more information? You can email Jim Dast at, as well as get in contact with Carol and Bob Dombroski at