By Tania Karas
August 23, 2013 New York Law Journal - During finals week in May, Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law students Matthew Kriegsman and Kenneth Renov placed a bin in their school's lobby to collect textbooks students no longer needed. They thought they'd get a few dozen throughout the summer. Instead, they got 650.
The collection bins were the first step in a new loan program where students struggling to afford textbooks and workbooks can borrow them from the school and return them at the end of the semester.
Kriegsman, a 3L and vice president of the Student Bar Association, said he was shocked to see textbooks, often in near-perfect condition, thrown in the trash at year's end by students who simply didn't have time to resell books that decrease significantly in value when used—or who were so relieved to finish classes they never wanted to see the books again.
Last spring, Renov, a 2L, approached Kriegsman with the idea for a lending library inspired by the Jewish tradition of sharing certain costly items, such as wedding dresses, within a group.
"It's the idea that there are some things that are really expensive, but they're very important and only used once. So they circulate through the community," Kriegsman said. "One of these books alone can cost up to $215. It's ridiculous."
And so with book donations rolling in, the pair put their negotiation skills to work. They convinced facility workers to clear a space in the building's basement to store the volumes on rows of old library shelves. They then worked with the office of student finance to devise an application for interested students. To participate, students must meet a certain financial need threshold calculated by the office.
By scanning ISBN numbers, Kriegsman and Renov keep an updated database of available books, similar to a library catalog. If a book is in stock, it is delivered to the Office of Student Life for private pickup by the student. Students apply using only their numerical ID number to ensure anonymity.
About 45 of the donated textbooks came from professors who received free copies from publishers hoping they would assign them in class. Other donated books cannot be loaned because publishers have released revised editions. Kriegsman hopes to gather enough such books to resell them in bulk so the program can give students in need a stipend toward the edition required in class.
"That's the craziness of the book industry," he said. "After one edition the book is almost obsolete."
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