Student-run lending library helps hundreds afford course materials

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by Amina Kilpatrick, courtesy of Cornell Daily Sun

In 2016, two Cornell (NY) students founded a library to help out their peers who could not afford to buy textbooks. During the spring and fall semesters of 2018, the library rented out approximately 840 books and 100 iClickers.

The Lending Library offers course materials on a semester-long loan, including textbooks, laptops, books and iClickers, according to the library co-presidents, Dominic Grasso ’20 and Natalia Hernandez ’21.

The inability to afford textbooks and iClickers have prevented many students to take classes they are interested in. For some of them, this even means they have to decide between eating or paying for textbooks.  “I will have to not eat dinner for a week to afford this textbook,” Jaelle Sanon ’19, founder of the Lending Library, told The Sun. “[Or] for me to be able to eat, I’ll have to drop this class.”

Sanon also recalled how she once had had to drop a class after calculating the costs of course materials. The Cornell experience is dependent upon those who can afford it, according to Sanon.  “It shouldn’t be like that,” she continued, “[That] different people at Cornell are having different experiences because they fall in a different tax bracket.”

Through the Lending Library’s efforts, students have been able to find course materials. Jenna Steins ’21 rented out an iClicker that was required for two of her classes, and Angie Escalona ’21 was also able to utilize the services of the lending library to get a PC for a business computing class in Fall 2017. Many of the applications necessary for the class were only available on PC computers.

Instead of having to carefully coordinate her study times and library usage around the availability of computers, Escalona rented out a laptop from the lending library for the entire semester.  Currently, the library is focused on growing. Efforts include sending out surveys to understand what is most used in the library and the ways they can improve.

“We have grown quite a bit,” Grasso told The Sun. “Now what we are trying to do too is [to] become more targeted and analytical in our approach to supplying materials by connecting more the with students who are using our services.”

Their aggregated collection is made up of donated books and books purchased through grants, including the Community Funding Partnership Board, the Student Activity Funding Commission and Cornell Giving Days. The Cornell Bookstore has also given books to the Lending Library that students have donated at the end of each semester, according to Grasso.

“We work with the bookstore at the beginning and end of every semester both to collect books from there, some used textbooks that we incorporated into our system and also go through their list to see what books are needed each semester,” Grasso said.

Hernandez said that directed donations are another way they procure the materials they have in their collection. The library recently received an anonymous donation to purchase Industrial and Labor Relations law books which can cost around $500, according to Hernandez.

Books that have not been requested by professors or checked out in the past three or four semesters will then be recycled for a new purpose, Grasso said. When books are no being longer used, the library donates them to a prison education program.

The next project the lending library has is to offer travel grants for students to take exams such as the GRE, the MCAT and the LSAT. Many programs offer assistance in affording the test preparatory programs and exams; however, many of these centers are not in Ithaca, which can be a barrier for students according to Hernandez.

“A lot of recipients already receive money to take the test but do not receive financial support to actually get to the test,” Grasso said.

The library is also a part of the Finger Lakes Library System and is run out of the Durland Alternatives Library in Anabel Taylor Hall. The Alternatives Library provides the infrastructure to support the initiative by housing and cataloging the books.

Aside from the public libraries, Cornell administrators have also been supportive of the lending library as well. Vice President of Student Life Ryan Lombardi has had multiple conversations with the lending library and has spoken with faculty on their behalf, according to Hernandez and Grasso.

They have also worked closely with the Dean of Students office through their advisor Shakima Clency, associate dean and director of first-generation/low-income student support.  Hernandez and Grasso both acknowledged new efforts by Cornell Library to address accessibility of course materials.

Last fall, Cornell Libraries added the ability for students to request books required by their classes that the library will purchase. Additionally, the borrow-direct and interlibrary loan are two other systems that allow students to request books, The Sun has previously reported.

“I know personally that there were a lot of students who didn’t have a PC and so they had to stay long spend long hours at the library and manage their time to match their schedules to the computer lab,” Escalona said. “The lending library allowed me to have the resources that a need to utilize a pc based on my own personal schedule”