On his way home from work every evening, Herbert Ockerman makes it a habit to stop at three outlets of Half-Price Books to purchase textbooks, literature or “anything that would fit into a school or university library.”
He boxes them up with other books he collects, including donations from retiring faculty members, and stores them in his garage, basement and living room. When he has enough for a shipment, he has a shipping container delivered to his neighborhood in northern Columbus and enlists the help of friends, family, students and other volunteers to fill it up. Then it’s ready to send overseas, primarily to universities where former international students are now faculty members or administrators. Ockerman, professor of animal sciences with Ohio State University’sCollege of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences, has done this since 1984, coordinating more than 1,500 shipments to thousands of educational institutions in more than 350 locations around the world. A rough estimate of the value of the shipments: $500 million.
“Buying the books is cheap,” said Ockerman, who also is a scientist with the college’s Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. “Shipping is the expensive part.”
Ockerman recently was honored for this outreach and his dedication to helping international students by being named a 2010 recipient of the Distinguished Diversity Enhancement Award from Ohio State. Since he started his Ohio State career in 1961, he has been an adviser to 95 international graduate students from 35 countries and 86 post-doctorate and visiting scholars from 24 countries. As one nominator for the diversity award wrote, “He knows no boundaries when it comes to giving support and help to international students so that they realize the full potential of their educational and life experience at Ohio State.”
This isn’t the first honor Ockerman has recognizing his generosity. In 2008, Cavite State University in the Philippines honored him for his donation of books to the university library, which hired 15 people for more than six months to catalog and bar code every book in the shipment.
“They had built a six-story library,” Ockerman said, “but they had books for only one floor. That shipment filled another one.”
The university named the library Ockerman Hall, and gave him an honorary doctorate in Humanities.
“I don’t think I ever took a Humanities course, ever,” Ockerman said. “If I did, I don’t remember it.”
Today, Ockerman is ready to fill another cargo container with books — this time to either the Philippines or China — but the countries’ tighter restrictions on international shipping could thwart his efforts.
“They want me to send a listing of every book in the shipment,” he said.
He does offer a general listing — the number of math books, science texts, etc. — but he couldn’t begin to log every title.“We’ll see what happens. The first country to give me the go-ahead gets it.”
The Distinguished Diversity Enhancement Awards are sponsored by the University Senate Committee on Diversity in cooperation with the Office of Human Resources. They are designed to recognize significant commitment to enhancing diversity at Ohio State. The five 2010 recipients were honored with a plaque and a $1,200 honorarium at a ceremony in June.