09 November 2015

A Library of Donations

One of the most widely read posts on this blog is one that I wrote right after I arrived in Uganda, in 2011. I had helped sort through a large donation of books and was wrestling with what I saw. It was disheartening to see so many books shipped to Africa with such little use to the library. I wrote about book donations and often during my 18 months in Uganda, I wrestled with what it was like to work in a library made up primarily by donations.

This past summer we also saw the ramifications of book donations to KEST. They had received book donations that included hundreds of copies of the same title. While the titles themselves were not be bad per se, 100 copies were certainly unnecessary for a library. We talked about what the school could do with them: book sale, give to students, give at outreach events, etc. But it just seemed like such a shame that some organization would spend so much money to send/give books that were ultimately not helpful to the library's collection. And ultimately those organizations put the burden on the library and school to figure out what to do with all those books.

Recently, I found this study, which I found fascinating. [It's long! You can read a summary in this newsletter.] The study speaks to the bigger picture of book donations in across Africa. And the importance of supporting local, African publishers as opposed to just shipping in lots of books from Europe and the US. The study describes many of the things I've seen while being on the receiving end of donations. I remember asking myself and others, where can you buy books that have been printed here, in Africa? How can books and reading be made more accessible? Are donations the best way to build a library collection?

Last year, at my job here in Minnesota, we weeded a large number of books from our collection. We were able to offer a number of them to students. And some we were able to send to Better World Books. [I confess, I don't know much about Better World Books but I do know that they take donated books and try to resell them before re-donating them.] But there were also some that we had to recycle. People from campus asked why we were recycling instead of donating the books to another non-profit. For many people, the thought of throwing away books is almost sacrilegious. But the reality is, for many countries in Africa [and probably other developing countries], our time and money would be better spent supporting local publishers and authors, instead of shipping our old books around the world.

The community developer in me thinks about issues like this all the time. How can I be a part of the bigger story of publishing, books, and information access around the world? What can I do with old books [both personally and at work] that builds into sustainable models of literacy development? What things are already happening in publishing around the world that I can support?

I don't have answers yet. I may never have answers. But I hope that by asking the questions I can be a part of the solution.

And I can remind my readers [whoever and wherever you are] to think about where you send your old books. :)


1 comment:

  1. Great post, Rachel! I recently had a lot of books (new) sent here to Rwanda to donate to a community library. While I tried to think carefully about my choices (lots of animal books, a children's bible, some easy readers that I thought might be fairly universal), I did go with the easier/cheaper route of having them sent from the US rather than trying to figure out how I could get books that were printed in Kenya or Nigeria. There is a bookstore here, but even they seem to have mostly books printed in Europe--some maybe from South Africa, or printed in Europe for the South African market. The public library is full of eclectic donations like those you've described, especially in the fiction section. If librarianship were something I could focus on, I would love to figure out a good way to source books for libraries--there are several community libraries around, not to mention schools.

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