Faculty tweets net huge donation
for Waldo Library Japanese collection
A series of Twitter messages requesting Japanese books to support Western Michigan University's recently launched Japanese major produced thousands of donations of Japanese novels, art history books, history texts, manga, and other materials.
Dr. Jeffrey Angles, an associate professor of Japanese in WMU's Department of World Languages and Literature, was in Japan in early 2011 when he wrote a series of Twitter messages calling for donations. He had been working with his colleagues at WMU to offer Japanese as a major beginning in fall semester 2012, but he was concerned there were too few Japanese-language holdings in Waldo Library. To his surprise, the tweets went viral.
In his tweets, Angles explained that even though Michigan had suffered from the United States' economic downturn, interest in Japanese studies here had never been stronger. As a teacher, he hoped to expand access at WMU to Japanese-language books and other materials to inspire his students.
"The response was overwhelming," Angles said. “At the time I wrote the tweets, I only had about 80 followers so I expected only a few friends to send books, but within moments, my Tweet was re-tweeted hundreds of times and the number of people following me skyrocketed. The first box of books arrived at my Tokyo apartment less than eight hours after the first tweet!”
Within three days, Angles had received so many boxes of books that it was practically impossible to move in his Japan apartment. About two weeks into the donation drive, he had to beg people to start sending books directly to Kalamazoo.
Among the books, Angles found many treasures: the complete works of famous authors, complete sets of popular manga, dictionaries, encyclopedias, popular novels, and richly illustrated art history books. Angles spent hundreds of hours before leaving Japan, opening every box and sorting the books he received while there. He sold duplicates and unnecessary materials back to used bookstores, then repacked the remaining books to send to WMU.
What was most touching, according to Angles, were the letters that came with the books. One woman sent a big collection with a note explaining that the books used to belong her father who had passed away. She had not known what to do with them until reading the Tweets calling for donations. Other letters came from students who explained that they wanted to send their favorite manga to students in America. “There were dozens and dozens of wonderful letters like that,” Angles said. “The outpouring of kindness and generosity moved me deeply.” On March 11, 2011, Japan suffered the largest earthquake in recorded history while Angles was still in Japan. He began receiving tweets and messages from people in northeastern Japan. “They wrote to me to tell me that their houses had been half-destroyed, and as they were cleaning up the chaos, they didn’t know what to do with their books," he said. "They offered to send them to me so that they would be safe in Michigan. I cried the first time I received one of those messages, and they kept on coming.”
Among the donors were several people with Kalamazoo connections, including residents of Numazu, Kalamazoo’s sister city located near Mount Fuji, who collected several dozen books. “They were excited to be able to contribute to Kalamazoo, a city that they knew and loved," said Angles, who worked with a Japanese shipping company to send the books to Waldo Library. “I can’t imagine how surprised the people at the library must have been when they saw the enormous crates.”
Six months after returning to Kalamazoo, Angles received a large package from the disaster zone. The package was full of Japanese translations of famous European novels with a note that the books belonged to a man killed in the earthquake. “Each time I walk through the literature section of the library and see the black spines of that particular set of books, I feel overcome with sadness,” Angles said.
The cataloguing section of the library has spent the last two years working their way through the donations. Randle Gedeon, Waldo's monographic acquisitions and gifts librarian, said the catalogers have processed 2,951 books as of February 2013 and there are still many more, mostly paperbacks, waiting to be processed.
“Thanks to all of our donors, WMU now has a magnificent collection of modern and contemporary Japanese literature, including many of Japan’s most famous authors,” Angles said. “We also have a huge collection of manga. I hope that inspires some students to work on their Japanese!”