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Donate Cans, Borrow a Textbook Through Unique Program at West Valley College

As West Valley College students settle into their fall semester classes, they have access to a unique option for getting textbooks for less. Through the college’s Books for Food program, students who bring in 30 cans of food for Second Harvest Food Bank can borrow a hardcover textbook for the semester. 

The program, which has been around for about a decade, has become more formalized in recent years, with the number of books available to students almost doubling last semester. 

“We know that one of the top complaints of college students in general is the high cost of textbooks,” said Sam Liu, faculty member in economics and the primary faculty organizer of the program. “In fact, some studies have shown that one in four or five students will forgo getting the textbook at all because of cost. This is a program that’s part of the solution. It’s a no-brainer for everybody. Faculty have more students who have the textbook and students can lower their costs. And Second Harvest receives donations from our students – thousands of cans of food – which is great for them.” 

At the beginning of each semester, students interested in participating simply need to bring 30 cans of food to campus. They drop off the cans at an Associated Students Organization desk in the Campus Center, sign a contract agreeing to the program’s terms and, in return, receive a voucher good for one hardcover textbook. Students can then redeem the voucher at the West Valley Library, which maintains the program’s collection of textbooks. 

Available textbooks span a broad range of disciplines, including anthropology, math, biology, business, communications, political science and geography. Students are free to select any book from among those available. The library then processes the book as though it’s an actual library book, providing a record of what should be returned at the end of the semester. 

The end of each semester not only brings the return of books checked out, but it also brings in donations of additional textbooks. After a class ends, students can donate their textbooks to the program rather than selling them back. 

Although students do not benefit directly by donating their books, Liu said many opt to do so as a way to support the program. Liu said he is talking with as many faculty members as possible this semester to explain the program and encourage them to ask students to donate their books when the class ends. 

Currently, the program has about 550 books, Liu said. He hopes to increase that number significantly through continued outreach to faculty members and students. 

“This program has been a phenomenal service for students on many fronts,” said Javier Nino, ASO member and a program organizer. “It provides students with textbooks for less than $30, textbooks that would normally cost a student more than that to buy. It helps students to not have to worry about spending an arm and a leg for a biology book or calculus book.” 

Considering that textbooks in some disciplines can run close to $200 apiece, the potential savings for students can be significant. 

That’s what Joe Hasty, faculty member in geography, had in mind in 2003 when he first began the program. Long frustrated as a student by the cost of textbooks, it wasn’t until he was at the front of the classroom that he saw the impact those prices can truly have. “A lot of my students were not able to afford the textbook and that made it really difficult to teach the material,” he said. 

So at the end of the semester, he pitched an idea to students: Donate their textbooks to Hasty and he would make sure they got into the hands of students next semester who needed them. He expected five books that first time; he received 35.  

Student demand quickly built the program, which Hasty and Andy Kindon, faculty member in anthropology, ran as an informal program from their offices. Demand and support for the program eventually grew so much that it became more institutionalized. 

“Almost everyone wins,” Hasty said. “As a faculty member, I win because more students get the textbooks and students win because they get a really good deal. The local community wins because Second Harvest gets all this food to dole out.”