In Its Second Year, Cardozo Book Loan Program Makes 1,800 Textbooks More Affordable for Students

It began with a simple observation.

At the end of the fall 2012 semester, Yeshiva University’s Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law students Matthew Kriegsman and Kenneth Renov noticed that a lot of their peers were dumping the extremely expensive textbooks they’d just purchased that summer in the trash because, once used, the books had little to no resale value. It seemed like a terrible waste. “One of those books could cost $100 to $200 and you only use it for two months,” said Kriegsman.

Cardozo student Matthew Kriegsman helps oversee the Cardozo Law Book Loan Program, which coordinates the low-cost rental of 1,800 textbooks to qualifying students

Cardozo student Matthew Kriegsman helps oversee the Cardozo Law Book Loan Program.

Renov suggested that the two collect their classmates’ books and save them for students with financial need the following semester—“kind of like a gemach [lending library], which is a Jewish concept I’d never heard of before,” Kriegsman said. “Ken explained to me that in a gemach, very expensive items which are only used once or twice are shared by the community—like wedding dresses, for instance.” Excited, the pair set up a bin in the Cardozo lobby and sent out an email to the class letting them know they could drop off unwanted textbooks there. They expected to collect 10 or 15 books.

Within days, they had more than 350. After a week, they had 650. The Cardozo Law Book Loan Program was born.

Now in its second year, the program orchestrates the rental of more than 1,800 law books to Cardozo students who qualify for financial aid for a fraction of the books’ cover price. “We’re easily saving students several thousand dollars a semester,” said Kriegsman. He and his team negotiated with the school’s facilities staff to create a space for the books in a climate-controlled office in Cardozo’s basement. Prospective borrowers can view a spreadsheet to see whether the book they need is in stock and how many books are available.

Kenneth Renov

Kenneth Renov sorts textbooks in the Cardozo Law Book Loan Program.

Once a request is placed, all a borrower needs to do is pick their book up. The pick-up location is in a different room every semester, so students who participate in the program are less likely to be seen collecting their books. In addition, all loaned books are indistinguishable from the full-price copy the student in the next seat might be using, with the exception of a unique bar code located on the back. “Preserving the anonymity of the students who use this program was very important to us, in line with the highest form of the Jewish value of charity,” said Kriegsman. “About 50 students a semester benefit from this program and you’d never know who they were.”

Cardozo staff and faculty have also been excited to contribute. Many professors have donated books from their office libraries to the Cardozo Law Book Loan Program, allowing Kriegsman and his team to provide almost all first-year students who applied last May with a free textbook. As the program continues to expand, Kriegsman hopes it will branch out to other schools as well. “This is a Jewish-inspired initiative that can benefit students from any background,” he said. “Like Cardozo, it’s rooted in Jewish values but seeks to illuminate the larger world.”

“It’s wonderful when students help other students,” said Judith Mender, dean of students at Cardozo. “Despite being so incredibly busy, our students have demonstrated compassion for others in identifying an unmet need; problem-solving skills in marshalling unused resources to fill that need; and persistence and flexibility in developing a fully-functioning program. Their enthusiasm has been contagious and donations to the program have outstripped our expectations. We are proud of the work that they have done.”

Kriegsman, who graduated in May but will return to Cardozo this year to earn his master’s degree in dispute resolution, is too.

“People have told us they can pay their month’s rent because of our program,” he said. “That’s unbelievable.”