Class of 2000 graduate Jennifer Michaels posted a link to the library’s Amazon wish list on the growing TJ Alumni Facebook group on March 2. By the end of the day, the thread had already gotten 22 likes and since then, the library has received Amazon packages every week with books gifted by former students and parents of students.
“Once in a while moon, a parent would buy one of the books,” Head Librarian Anne Applin said. “Since advertisement of the wish list we’ve gotten books almost every day from TJ alumni.”
The wish list got started by the librarians as a way for the community to contribute to their paper collection.
“The TJ Library maintains the wish list on Amazon. It was set up by the previous head librarian. When I came to TJ, I inherited it and I’ve been maintaining it since,” Applin said.
One of the problems the library faces is a small budget for buying books in paperback and hardcover.
“So much of our local budget is spent on electronic databases,” Applin said.
Michaels, who posted the wish list to Facebook, found it by accident after an Amazon search.
“I got an email from the University of Virginia Alumni Association, and somebody had posted about this thing they started called BookMentors, which allows teachers around the country to request a particular book. I started wondering why we didn’t have one of these for other schools I cared about, and sure enough, I found the wish list,” Michaels said.
After buying a book for the library, Michaels immediately posted the link to the Facebook group of upwards of 6,000 alumni. Her post included the dare, “Wouldn’t it be fun to clear the whole list with alumni donations?”.
“I thought it would get some response. I was thinking maybe 10 books. As best as I can count, we’ve given 50, and it’s still going. It’s above and beyond,” Michaels said.
In addition to the many donations from graduates, one graduate even went as far as to link the Amazon wish list to her wedding registry.
“Eventually it got to the point where we were running out of books to buy. It just got bigger and bigger,” Michael said.
The books on the wish list itself range from scientific to just published. Some of the most recent additions to the wish list include “Plastic Fantastic: How the Biggest Fraud in Physics Shook the Scientific World” by Eugenie Samuel Reich; “Sea Change: Britain’s Coastal Catastrophe” by Richard Girling; and “Keepers of the Trees: A Guide to Re-Greening North America” by Ann Linnea.
Po-Heng Chen, who graduated in 1998, recently bought copies of the Ender Quartet by Orson Scott Card for the library’s collection.
“I just don’t like traditional fundraising, and I certainly don’t like that a portion of my monetary donation will inevitably go towards overhead costs. That’s where the Amazon wish list is different,” Chen said. “It allows me to give back something tangible directly to the school.”
For many alumni, the Amazon wish list provides a way to stay connected to the community as well as share their professional experience.
“I recently considered being a mentor, but things are a bit busy so I didn’t sign up yet. In the meantime, I was hoping something like this would come along so I could feel like I was giving back in a small way,” Class of 2006 graduate Grace King said.
Some of the Jefferson alumni now donating books find ways to connect their current career with their purchases.
Enayet Rasul, who graduated in 1994, sent “The Science of Good Cooking.”
“I hope the students have fun trying these techniques in their cooking,” Rasul said,
Class of 1989 graduate Jon Guhl commented on his donation, the “Gold Medal Physics: The Science of Sports by John Goff,” “As probably one of the few alumni to work in sports, I hope this book inspires someone to follow a different path!” he said.
These notes aren’t exclusive to alumni with themed purchases— most of the packages the library have received have included a note from a graduate or family member of a graduate.
“It’s heartwarming to get those Amazon boxes every week. We get wonderful notes from TJ alumni about their memories of TJ and the library,” Applin said.
Despite the time elapsed since the original post went up on the alumni Facebook group, the graduates’ enthusiasm hasn’t seemed to slacken.
“You kind of feel as if you have a direct connection to the school because you’re giving something to the library that students can appreciate,” Michaels said.
(This article originally appeared in the May 17, 2013 paper.)