UW-Stout library honored for helping to alleviate book famine in Africa

·3 min read

Jun. 23—MENOMONIE — When UW-Stout's Instructional Resources Service began its partnership with Books for Africa, the university donated small quantities of titles, and BFA Founder Tom Warth collected the boxes of withdrawn textbooks in his SUV.

"But now, over these many years, we are needing semitrucks to collect the books," he said in a UW-Stout news release. "Our partnership with Stout has been unique in many respects. No other institution of higher learning has done so much."

Over the last 25 years, UW-Stout has donated more than 500,000 books to BFA. In recognition of its generosity and commitment to BFA's mission of ending the book famine in Africa, UW-Stout's library recently was given the Books for Africa Kilimanjaro Society Volunteer Award.

"It is impossible to measure the impact in Africa," Warth said. "I like to say 50 young people will benefit from a title over its life span, and if it were not for Stout's contributions, these are titles that those folks would never see. We all know the ever-increasing cost of college-level material. On behalf of the students of Africa, I thank you, your staff and students."

BFA collects, sorts and ships books, computers, tablets and library enhancement materials to every country in Africa from its warehouse in St. Paul. Since it started in 1988, BFA has shipped more than 52 million books to help educate students across all 55 countries in Africa. It believes education is the great equalizer in the world and books are the foundation of a strong educational system.

Director of the Instructional Resources Service Bob Butterfield and Kim Uetz, inventory control coordinator, have worked with BFA for 11 years. Before that, the partnership was coordinated by Butterfield's predecessor, Brenda Swannack.

Butterfield and Uetz accepted the society award recently from Her Excellency, Hajia Alima Mahama, Ambassador of the Republic of Ghana to the U.S., at the University Club in St. Paul.

Butterfield said the ceremony was very humbling. "It was a tremendous honor to be recognized. We have always greatly appreciated our relationship with BFA. They save us time and money by taking books that are deemed unsaleable and would otherwise end up in the trash or recycled," he said.

"It has always meant a lot that the lives of these books go on and are provided to libraries and schools that may not otherwise have books. We have had Stout students from Africa tell us that they had used books in Africa from Stout," he added.

Last fall, the university donated more than 12,500 textbooks to BFA, adding to its half-million-plus count. Staff and BFA members spent half a day loading boxes for transport to the St. Paul warehouse.

Butterfield estimated that over the 25-year period, there have been 30 to 40 staff members and student workers involved in the process.

As the BFA president, UW-Stout assistant professor Mike Essien is "doubly proud" of the partnership, and he is looking forward to more opportunities.

"I am thankful to IRS, Bob and Kim for their continued support," Essien said in the release. "UW-Stout helps BFA light up the children's eyes and takes a child in Africa to places that only books can. It is rewarding for those of us at the university to see our Midwest institution carry on its mission of education to extended locations — directly or indirectly."