Textbooks galore, unlimited Internet access, CDs spinning away on personal laptops -- these are but a few of the tangible assets the typical university student in the United States takes for granted.
It's a whole different story in underdeveloped countries where their counterparts in general view access even to basic textbooks to be a luxury. Indeed, many university libraries in these regions lack even the most fundamental resources.
There's a very active yet low profile organization focused on addressing this problem, at least in the geoscience community.
It's the AAPG Publication Pipeline Committee, which was organized by AAPG member Martin Cassidy a few years ago.
The PPC was a way to formally bring together a group of volunteers -- many of whom had been working independently to supply textbooks and other published material to students in far flung parts of the world -- to help bolster geoscience education.
The students are intensely interested in studying to be geoscientists, yet they often don't have even the most elementary materials at hand.
"These students are aspiring to learn geology and geophysics, but they're held back and hindered by a lack of access to information we take for granted," said AAPG member and committee volunteer Gerrit Wind. "Just imagine a place struck by quakes and floods, for instance, and where you have no universal Internet access and no reliable electricity. You can't just go to the AAPG Web page and download all the BULLETINs -- it's not an option."
Answering the Call
Speaking of BULLETINs, all of you who could never bear to toss any of the hundreds of copies you've accumulated over the years have no excuse to hoard them any longer -- there are people who covet these publications, along with the other geoscience-related literature in your stockpile.
Here's a quick look at how the Publication Pipeline Committee functions.
"We collect the books and look for recipients, which are mainly universities in need," said AAPG member Rick Wall, senior geophysicist at Samson International and newly-inducted chairman of the committee. "Then we try to find someone interested in underwriting the shipment for those items because we have no budget for this and have to rely on the generosity of companies.
"And it doesn't have to be a company," Wall noted. "Recently there was a shipment to Afghanistan, which was underwritten by the U.S. Geological Survey."
That particular shipment occurred when Baylor University library systems merged their geology branch library into their main library, according to AAPG member George Klein. The duplicate library inventory was shipped to the University of Kabul.
The not-for-profit committee also lacks funds to store the burgeoning collection of materials. It is noteworthy that a non-industry related business stepped forward to address this problem. J.A. Green Development Corp. in Houston donates warehouse space for storage.
"Without their generosity we wouldn't be in the shape we're in," Wall said. "They get no credit for this, and they had no need to get involved. They just realized it was the right thing to do and that it's a great program."
When talking to committee members, success stories abound.
AAPG member Chuck Caughey, GRAD program coordinator upstream technology at ConocoPhillips, got involved in this effort when working in Indonesia where he helped set up AAPG student chapters at universities for several years.
Caughey, in fact, is the founder of 11 AAPG Student Chapters in Indonesia and is the current acting Student Chapter Committee Chairman.
"They needed a lot of basic textbooks we take for granted in western universities," Caughey said. "So I came back to Houston armed with lists from maybe eight universities, visited with the committee and went to the warehouse to look at the inventory.
"The books were high quality," he said, "and there was good coverage of the basic textbooks needed in Indonesia."
After acquiring requests from the rest of the universities that wanted to participate and packing the materials, the group quickly encountered problems in getting to the actual shipping stage.
The Houston chapter of IATMI (Indonesian Association of Petroleum Technologists) mobilized to help by sponsoring a golf tournament to raise funds, and the Indonesian consul put his shoulder to the wheel, Caughey said.
The result? Funds were secured to pay to ship 238 boxes containing thousands of books covering myriad subjects including geology, petroleum engineering, marine geology, offshore engineering, etc.
The Indonesian Petroleum Association also assisted in the effort along with Schlumberger, which helped to expedite the shipment through the always-thorny customs procedure. Upon reaching Jakarta, the books were sorted by students and then shipped to the various universities with assistance from oil companies active in the region.
"Since then, I've visited with some of the deans and chancellors," Wall said. "They were all so thrilled to receive the materials, and we've received many notes of thanks."
Who among you has not heard stories about whole homes overflowing with AAPG BULLETINs, paper maps, cross sections and the like?
This was essentially what Wind found when visiting one such collector.
"Every room, including the garage, was saturated with books, periodicals, minerals, Indian artifacts, specimens of every kind each with a unique story," Wind said. "We took the BULLETINs, memoirs and some textbooks and left with an entire van full of boxes, which we took to the warehouse to inventory."
It is noteworthy to point out the group does not cherry pick.
"We do it by pallet," Wind said. "We make a judgment: These boxes contain a series of memoirs, journals, books, and we make a list and put them on a pallet that has maybe two or three collections.
"If BULLETINs or memoirs are part of a pallet, we don't go through and isolate or take out geophysical or AAPG items or only recent editions of textbooks," he noted. "It's too labor intensive; the whole inventory process is done by students we pay $10 an hour."
Do the Right Thing
Both ConocoPhillips and ChevronTexaco have participated as underwriters of shipping costs, but committee members noted the need for more companies and others to step up to help with the expense.
As the oil industry searches eagerly for new geoscientists to beef up the depleted ranks caused by past layoffs and retiring professionals, the committee's efforts are timely indeed -- particularly given the diminished ranks of students focusing on geology and related subjects stateside at the university level.
"Our motto is geoscientists helping geoscientists," Wall noted. "We're lucky to have access to these materials. In countries where they don't, if we can help the students we're helping the whole community of geoscientists and the industry.
"It's the right thing to do."