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Grinnell’s Low Income Lending Library is still providing textbooks for students, despite their location

Despite the virtual nature of the College, the Low Income Lending Library is making sure students still have the textbooks they need, free of cost. By Tess Kerkhof.

The Low-Income Lending Library (LILL) is still providing Grinnell students with textbooks, but their practices have adapted to the socially distant semester by shifting to a mail-based delivery system.

The Lending Library was founded in 2016 by Deanna Shorb, the dean of religious life, and students Tim Burnette ’19 and Ally Leicht ’19 with the mission to provide first-generation and low-income students with access to their courses’ required textbooks without paying an exorbitant price for new books.

Located in the basement of the Center for Religion, Spirituality, and Social Justice (CRSSJ) at 913 Eighth Ave, the Lending Library has largely been maintained and managed by student workers in the past. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic and classes moving online, none of the former staff members currently live in Grinnell. That means Shorb is left to run the Library alone.

“This job basically required us to be on campus because of the physical nature of it,” said Cát Đằng Tôn ’22. Tôn’s job as student supervisor had included organizing the Library’s collection, keeping track of which books were loaned to whom and updating the catalog of available books according to new course listings and recent donations.

To continue providing books for students in F1, Shorb enlisted the help of her son to manage the distribution of books to students on campus as well as those living outside of Grinnell. To permanently fill this position, two students living in Grinnell are being hired and trained virtually by previous student workers – like Tôn – to sort, locate and ship books to students for the spring semester.

“The goal right now is to have everybody who asked get at least one class worth of books,” said Shorb.

Not all classes are as easy to supply books for as others, and the disparity is especially apparent between science and humanities classes. While the curriculum in humanities classes may stay relatively consistent from year to year, science textbooks often rely on the most recent information. “I just did a call to someone [who] left with six, I think, books for his Shakespeare course. Whereas I may or may not have had the one science book that another person needed,” Shorb said.

Rafael Monteforte ’21 and his brother Felipe Monteforte ’21 both requested books from the Lending Library for their F1 classes. As the brothers are currently living in Grinnell, they could arrange a time to pick up their books from the CRSSJ. The book Rafael requested was not listed in the Lending Library’s catalogue, so he ended up receiving a new book that, once returned, will remain in the catalogue for future students.

Even though Gaen McCan ’22 is living in Arizona, they had no problem receiving the book they requested for their F1 class. “They got me my books before they had said they were supposed to be here. Like they got here a day or two before they had said, so it was very pleasant to actually have that before classes began.”

The goal right now is to have everybody who asked get at least one class worth of books. -Dean of religious life, Deanna Shorb

Shorb said that one of the main challenges facing the LILL is figuring out a way to get the books back from students currently living outside of Grinnell once their courses have ended. Originally, Shorb planned on sending pre-paid shipping labels to students and asking them to mail their books back to Grinnell. However, the price for shipping varies depending on the weight of the package, so there’s no way for Shorb to prepay a media-mail shipping label without knowing how much the books weigh. “It’s starting to hurt a little bit,” said Shorb, as the Spring 2020 semester will have courses requiring the same textbooks that were lent out in Spring 2019 and are still in the possession of Grinnellians across the country.

Despite the logistical challenges, McCan is only supportive of the program and its goals. “I adore the Lending Library,” they said. “It’s very rough to get textbooks these days and the Lending Library relieves that pressure and stress.”

Monteforte agrees, “It’s definitely something that’s made my experience in college much easier, so I’m really, really, glad that Grinnell offers this opportunity for us and yeah, I just love it so much.”

According to Shorb, a substantial portion of the student body qualifies financially for the Lending Library but does not access its resources. “I’m hoping a couple hundred people who are out there who just haven’t read that email that comes from Financial Aid telling them that they’re eligible send in their paperwork to become a member,” she said.

If you are on campus and wish to return your Lending Library materials or donate other books, you can drop those off with Campus Safety located at 1432 East St or email to set up a time to deliver them directly to the CRSSJ. Besides the Lending Library, the student food pantry located in the CRSSJ is also open to Grinnell students. To access that resource, send an email to

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Nadia Langley
Nadia Langley, Editor in Chief
Nadia Langley is a fourth year majoring in history and French. Her favorite historical French quote is: "Literally I didn't say that, that's so cray," -- Marie Antoinette, 1793.
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