It is an undisputed fact that college textbooks are expensive. On top of an already costly education at Columbia, students sometimes choose courses based solely on the prices of required reading materials. To address this and other challenges faced by first-generation college students, the First-Generation Low-Income Partnership (FLIP) at Columbia provides a community and a set of services to ensure that no student is unable to thrive academically on campus. One example of the group’s service to the Columbia community is its lending library, a collection of donated course materials and textbooks that are freely available to students who are unable to afford required texts.
“Talking to students, we found that a lot of people had difficulty affording textbooks,” said FLIP coordinator Lizzette Delgadillo SEAS ’17. “It’s very difficult to do well in a class…if you don’t have the appropriate textbook.”
Introduced in 2014, the lending library was established to meet a pressing need among first-generation and low-income students for more affordable textbooks, especially the Literature Humanities materials required by the College’s Core Curriculum.
“High-need students often struggle to cover the cost of textbooks each semester, and other students felt mobilized to assist,” said Dean of Undergraduate Student Life Cristen Kromm. “Given the number of Core courses with required readings, students thought it would make sense to create and sustain a lending library to assist high-need students.”
FLIP appealed to other students for used books, which are commonly discarded at the end of each academic year. Rather than recycle or re-sell textbooks, FLIP asked community members to donate their books to the lending library.
The lending library was initially based in a storage closet in a residence hall on campus, an unsuitable space not only in size, but also in its poor conditions for book storage. On hearing of the lending library from a Columbia student, Libraries staff suggested Butler Library as an alternative location.
“FLIP was working to maintain its lending library without an appropriate space and we were able to provide a place for their books,” said Undergraduate Services Librarian Anice Mills. “We’re happy to do anything we can to make it easier for FLIP and for students who can’t afford the expense of textbooks.”
FLIP relocated its lending library to the fourth floor of Butler Library in the spring of 2015. Mills helped to streamline FLIP’s collection of donated textbooks, sorting through texts no longer required by the Core, to ensure that the lending library remains relevant and useful to students.
At the close of the spring semester, following a campus-wide call for donations, FLIP collected more than 2,500 used books, according to Delgadillo.
“We’ve tried to do big donation drives at the end of academic years because that’s generally when students are moving out and trying to get rid of all the stuff in their rooms. … There are a lot of students who have taken [Core courses] and have those books, so [we should] try to share those resources and make it possible to have books available for everyone,” she said. “I’m really proud of how much people have contributed.”
With ample space in Butler Library to collect and display its books, FLIP offered a two-hour browsing session in the fall of 2016, opening its collection for students to search and select textbooks for the duration of the semester. Additional reading materials, tagged with FLIP labels, are also available to students throughout the academic year in the shelves of the Milstein Library in Butler. FLIP loaned nearly 1,000 books to students over the course of the fall semester and will continue to provide reading materials through the spring of 2017.
“Working out of Butler has just made everything so much easier and so much more streamlined,” said Delgadillo. “Students have really been using [the books] and have been really appreciative of the work that we’ve done, so I think it’s a good resource for everyone.”
Kromm agrees that the lending library is a strong example of community and cooperation, a reminder of the good that can be done through communication and quick thinking.
“The lending library is a symbol of effective partnerships,” she said. “Students identified a need, took action to gather books, and provided a resource. Over time, the book donations grew larger than the space available [and] students and administrators worked together to identify a solution that was sustainable given community need.”
For more information about the Libraries' partnership with FLIP or the group's lending library, please contact Anice Mills at firstname.lastname@example.org.