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Book Bonanza in the Black Belt

The University of Alabama School of Library and Informational Studies will award $22,552 in new books to nine schools in the Black Belt and state. CW | Amy Sullivan

Patrick Smith

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During March 2016, The University of Alabama School of Library and Information Studies will award a record $22,552 in brand new books to these elementary, middle and high schools via the SLIS Book Bonanza for the Black Belt & Beyond Program.

Established in 2009 by Jamie Naidoo, associate and Foster-EBSCO Endowed Professor in SLIS, the SLIS Book Bonanza (& Beyond) Program provides new books to Black Belt schools in need each year. The Beyond Program was established in 2015. Consideration for the Beyond Program requires schools to either be a low-income private school in the Black Belt region or a disadvantaged public school outside of the Black Belt. The Book Bonanza for the Black Belt winners may apply each year, but Beyond winners only get a one-time opportunity.

Naidoo, who has relationships with multiple book publishers, receives thousands of free books each year, so he decided that the best way to get rid of them is to give them to economically disadvantaged schools in the Black Belt region of the state.

“Every year we probably get 30,000 books, so we have to get rid of them,” Naidoo said. “So how do we get rid of them? We give them to schools in the Black Belt that need them.”

School librarians in the Black Belt region and the state were asked to apply for the books from January to mid-February until the deadline on Feb. 20. Naidoo then got together with a committee of students to rigorously review the applications to see which schools were most in need of the books. Out of 36 applicants, the committee chose seven schools within the Black Belt and two schools for the Beyond Program. The winners were notified on Feb. 26, and they each received over $1,500 worth of new books in March.

Since 2008, state budget cuts have provided little to no funding for school libraries across Alabama, resulting in books becoming increasingly old and worn down in some of the state’s schools.

Naidoo said the state usually requires there to be 25 books per student, but that most schools don’t meet that and the most common publication date for some schools’ books is 1993 and often earlier than that, forcing the libraries to constantly recycle books that are in rough condition.

“The schools are doing as much as they can with what they have, so it’s important to give them the books to provide them with resources so they can do more,” Naidoo said.

A few of the winning schools’ librarians expressed their excitement when they learned they’d be receiving the new books.

“It makes me feel so excited,” said Rachel Simmons, librarian for Central High School in Lowndes County and one of the Black Belt winners. “I’m 
elated. I know my students are going to be much appreciative, as well as the teachers. This is something that our students do not have. Even our public library in our area does not have books that our students really need. It means a whole lot to me and I’m sure it’s going to mean even more to our students.”

Karen Grimes, the librarian for Salem Elementary School in Dallas County and another Black Belt winner, said she can’t wait to see the faces on the children when they get to hold the new books.

“I have so many mixed emotions,” Grimes said. “There’s nothing better than putting a new book into a child’s hands. It’s one of the best gifts a school can give its children. I can’t wait to see the faces on these children when they get to hold these new books.”

Leesa Culbert, the librarian for Albertville Middle School in Marshall County and one of the Beyond winners, expressed her excitement and said they have struggled to keep their book collection going due to funding.

“We are just so excited because we have had very little if any federal or state funding for the last several years,” Culbert said. “As a matter of fact I think we went eight or nine years with no state funding. We received some library enhancement money this year, but it was nowhere near what we used to get. We have just really struggled to keep our collection going here.”

The application process and information on the Black Belt Bonanza and Beyond Program can be found on the program website: http://blackbeltbookbonanza.weebly.com/.

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Book Bonanza in the Black Belt