Well, I am on “vacation” in the US, and took a bunch of my books and magazines to the Post office to ship home, and found that they no longer allow cheap book rates for overseas. Bummer. I guess they figured they could save money that way, but it is a big blow for many library projects in the third world.

So a “rich” retired doc won’t be able to ship magazines home. Big deal.

But the ones who are really hurt are projects that send used books to the poor.

For example, the International Book Project. Or Peace Corps volunteers, both for personal use and for their schools. Or projects that send Bibles overseas.
You  see, in the past, you could pack up printed matter and ship books surface mail via an M-Bag. I’m not sure of the exact rates, but I shipped books in the past for about a dollar a pound. You bundled them together, and the Post Office would put them in a canvas bag, an “M bag”. Three to six months later, you would get a battered bundle of your printed matter.

This was an invaluable way for us to get books. For myself, most of the books were text books or medical magazines, but usually we also included “light” reading in the mix. No problem.

Well, about six months ago, someone at the Post office decided to eliminate the cheap rates. They still have the “M bag”, but it is at airmail rate.

So instead of one dollar a pound, now it’s about four dollars a pound to send my books overseas.

Well, forget about it. I can send a “Balikbayan” box for a lot less than that, and presumably the used book shippers will similarly ship things bulk via UPS or other international shipping companies. For a package the size I was going to send, it comes to about 2 dollars a pound.

But what about charities? And what about individuals who just need a couple text books or magazines in their area of expertise? I guess they are out of luck.
Thanks to the internet, I can read my medical magazines on line (between brownouts). But many of the poorer areas don’t have internet access. (outside of town, there is now electricity but only cellphone coverage, no internet).
And what about schools? Or churches? And what about people without access to books?

Our area of the rural Philippines is not as isolated as ten years ago: Since last year, we have a bookstore at the new mall, and they also have a kiosk that sells get “used” books (usually used paperback best sellers, although some are classics or textbooks) for 50 cents to a dollar each.

But before last year, getting most books meant going to the malls (an hour or two drive) or Manila (3 hours if you are lucky and there was no traffic) and paying full price for new books. These books often cost ten dollars, which is a week’s salary for many of our farmers. If you were lucky, the used book kiosks would be open, to get older books at about a dollar each.

But ten years ago, we had nothing. Essentially our small town had no books for ordinary folks except for school libraries, and few actually owned books except for Bibles and comic books in the local dialect.
And for doctors, before the internet, it was worse. So some American doctors would send old textbooks and magazines to rural hospitals.

So although thanks to the internet and globalization, access to books is improving in some areas. Progress however is still spotty, and the ones most affected by the increased book rates are charities.

Some organizations are petitioning Congress and the USPostal service to change the policy, at least for humanitarian groups if not for individuals:

Several groups (Friends of Malawi, African Library Project, One World Childrens Fund, among others) are compiling a list of non-profits and other groups who are protesting the elimination of International Surface Mail. This list will be sent to the Board of Governors of USPS as well as to Congressman Henry Waxman (D-CA), the Chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, which oversees USPS.

Henry Waxman, where are you?


Nancy Reyes is a retired physician living in the rural Philippines. Her website is Finest Kind Clinic and Fishmarket.

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