Mankato-based publisher to donate 300,000 books to Africa

Medical texts
College level books are in particular demand for Books for Africa.
MPR photo/Euan Kerr

A Mankato-based children's book publisher is donating 300,000 overstock books to a nonprofit group that collects and ships books to African countries.

The donation from Capstone is the largest that Twin Cities-based Books for Africa has received in several years, officials said.

The donated books, which Capstone says are worth $5 million, will be shipped to the Books for Africa warehouse in St. Paul starting on Wednesday. They'll then be packed and shipped to Africa.

The donation "is one of the largest publisher donation received by Books for Africa we can remember, and will fill many, many school libraries across Africa," Books for Africa director Pat Plonski said.

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The donation is Capstone's third major gift to Books for Africa in less than two years. Last year the publisher donated 37,000 books to the organization.

Books for Africa has shipped more than 23 million books to 45 countries since 1988.

Founder Tom Warth started the organization after a vacation to Uganda, where he found empty village libraries and grade schools with few books.

"The headmaster's bicycle was the largest capital at some of these schools. There needed to be a huge change," said Warth, who owned a mail-order books business in Minneapolis before starting Books for Africa. "I love books and I couldn't imagine a life without them. Neither should Africa's population."

Warth said his group has since become the world's largest shipper of books to Africa.

Books for Africa is run on donations from international partners. Sponsors pay for shipping costs and distribution to the recipient countries.

Plonski said most donations over the years have been primary and secondary school textbooks, but the organization also collects college level texts and leisure library books.

There has been a greater effort to get college level textbooks because of their increased demand in the past five years, he said. Books for Africa worked to secure agreements with Encyclopedia Britannica and Thomson Reuters in the fall.

Next week, Thomson Reuters and Books for Africa will announce they will team up to increase the availability of legal texts to support law schools and governments in Africa.

Warth said the organization is also working to gain European partnerships to supply French language books.

Books that are part of the donation announced Wednesday include English language titles from Capstone and other divisions of the publisher's parent company, Coughlan Companies.

Lisa Hanson, human resources director of Coughlan Companies, said the publisher plans to maintain its partnership with Books for Africa, citing literacy as a global equalizer.

"I can still remember my favorite book growing up. Every child, no matter how far away, should have that opportunity to remember theirs," she said.