Cody Cousino / Lantern photographer
After almost 30 years of collecting and donating books, Ohio State professor Herbert Ockerman, 78, said he has donated an estimated $500 million in books to more than 300 locations around the globe.
That figure, which is based on the price of books if they had been sold rather than donated, doesn’t include the professor’s first 10 years of donating and collecting.
His philanthropy began in Brazil, where he visited students and noticed something missing from their classrooms: There were no books.
To remedy that, Ockerman began visiting three bookstores a day, mostly used bookstores, and purchased reasonably priced books that would “fit into a school or university library,” he said.
He also gets books donated from Half Price Books, OSU and professors who need to shed books when they change offices.
“I can’t solve all the world’s problems but I can find my niche and make a difference there I think,” said Ockerman, an animal science professor.
Mark Maxwell, store manager of Half Price Books on Bethel Road, said the store gives Ockerman books that would be unsellable and end up in a landfill or recycled.
“A 5-year-old textbook isn’t marketable to anyone here but it’s useful to people in places like Guatemala and Bangladesh,” Maxwell said.
Occasionally, Ockerman comes home to find mysterious stacks of books on his front porch from anonymous donors.
The types of books he donates aren’t limited to his field, animal science. He tries to send books in all areas, including math, philosophy and medicine. But he does not send books related to politics, religion or sex.
“I don’t have anything against any of those but I never know how they’re going to be received by the country,” Ockerman said.
Once he gets a load of books, Ockerman goes home and cleans them, boxes them up and stacks them in his garage. He stores them in copy-paper boxes stacked 15 high.
“I never thought I would still be doing it to this day when I started. I’d run the other way because it takes about four hours every day,” he said.
Ockerman said he ships about 36,000 books at a time, once or twice a year. To load the cargo container, he calls on the help of students, neighbors, people from the bookstores and anyone who will lend a hand.
Once the books are packed, Ockerman sends them to OSU alumni in countries including Turkey, Taiwan, Argentina, Spain, China, Morocco, Brazil and the Philippines.
“I make sure they take care of the books because it’s a lot of work and I want to make sure they don’t end up in a used bookstore someplace,” he said.
Cavite State University in the Philippines was so grateful for the donation that it named its library Ockerman Hall.
“This library is six stories tall, and before I gave them books, they only had half of one floor with books,” Ockerman said. “Now it’s full.”
He named his effort the Frances J. Ockerman International Book Endowment, after his wife who died of lung cancer.
“He credits his late wife with a lot of his motivation,” said Mary Kay Pohlschneider, a food science lecturer and one of Ockerman’s former students. “She always said the world is your classroom, and that is definitely the motto he’s lived by.”
In his 49 years at OSU, Ockerman has represented the university internationally by visiting more than 50 countries, including Denmark, China, Norway and India.
Ockerman’s donations helped him earn the 2010 Distinguished Diversity Award from OSU, but those accolades aren’t why he does it.
“The appreciation I get from the universities and the students, I think that’s the reason I do it,” he said.
Although Ockerman’s donations have contributed to the international community, they have also helped his own country, some say.
“It’s not just a donation,” said Lopamudra Basu, a graduate student in animal science and agricultural economics. “It’s also putting Ohio State as that image that he wants to give the world. To him the world is his classroom, but the real classroom, as an example to the world, is this university.”
Ockerman has donated books to schools in the United States as well, including Boone County High School in Kentucky.
And he plans to do it for as long as he can.
“Nobody twists my arm to do it,” he said. “If I can just change a few people’s educational level, then I think it’s worthwhile.”