12 April 2011

Donations, Cataloging, and Sustainablility

I am proud to announce that our computerized catalog now has over 500 books entered! This is so exciting! More on the cataloging in a later post. But as we have been working through the cataloging I am reminded, again, that almost all of the books at the RTC library have been donated. As I catalog the books I am looking at them all one-by-one and I find many that have underlining or notes written in the margin. I also find many that have inscriptions. I find the inscriptions both touching and amusing but also a bit sad. It is that reminder that these books have been donated and were not bought new. In fact, very few of the books arrived at RTC brand-new, I think. And, don't get me wrong: donations are great. This library wouldn't exist without the generosity of others. But if you want more of my views on donating books to Africa you can read my previous post.

Joshua, my colleague, and I spent quite a while the other day talking about this. He asked how could someone who had been given a book (as evidenced by the inscription) then go on to give that book away? I had to tell him I simply don't know. He said he thinks this shows a lack of respect for the gift and the giver. We also talked, again, about how so many books that are donated and shipped are simply irrelevant to the RTC Library. Some are missing covers or falling apart. Who wants to read a book that is in pieces? We talked about donations in general and Joshua also told me about donated/used computers to his home country of Kenya. He told me how outside organizations and governments give these computers but the computers require so much maintenance and work they become more expensive than they are worth.

This is not the first conversation I have had with African staff at RTC. It's heartbreaking in so many ways. The people here, like anywhere, don't just want charity or money. They want our love and respect. What good is a donation without empowerment? And I am reminded again, to think about sustainability. I have so many questions these days about this: Is what I am doing sustainable? When I make donations am I giving to organizations that empower communities rather than just give handouts? How is the work I'm doing at RTC sustainable? Am I making sure that someone can take over when I leave? How do I make a library (a Western institution) culturally appropriate so it is also sustainable and used in this community?

Yes, lots to think about, as always. I find I do a lot of thinking here.

In the meantime, here are some pictures of what we are finding:

I wonder about the context of this one.

And this one too, actually.
I love old card catalog cards! We found this in a book and it made us both laugh.


  1. It has been hard for me to give away books with inscriptions in the past, especially because once I was weeding my books and my possessions in general, probably in my senior year of high school, and my mother told me I was not to give away any books that people had given to me. She seemed so firm about it that even though I didn't agree (or understand why), it's been uncomfortable for me ever since. (Also, I rarely had a book when I was a kid that HADN'T been given to me, so...)

    But--I don't know if this helps your colleague at all--I think it is even more respectful to the gift/giver to send a book on to another reader, after the original recipient can't get use or enjoyment out of it anymore. The original recipient honors the book enough to send it to someone who they hope can use it or enjoy it even more.

  2. Wendy,
    Thanks for your thoughts! I, too, have trouble giving away books that have been given to me. But I totally agree, it does help when the books are going to someone who will actually enjoy/read/use them. We even found one with an inscription that said something along the lines of 'Dear So-and-So, enjoy and pass on when you are finished'. :)

    I suppose some of our conversation came from the fact that so many of these books aren't going to be read...because they are popular, self-help, religious-ese books that aren't helpful for a college. And, also, I think there might be some different ideas about gifts in African culture, which makes for a whole different dynamic.

    Hope you're doing well! :)

  3. Rachel, thanks for this post. Please continue to think and write - it's making all of us better thinkers! I will admit to ripping out those pages that have inscriptions or personal links before I donate a book. But the examples you share are so, hmm, what is the word, compelling? Ironic? Hilarious? All of the above? I think these messages across time and space are just meant to be passed on to others to wonder what the heck was the original context, and was it meant to be ironic or hilarious or just sincere and odd? Well, they certainly made me smile today! Thanks, as always, for sharing.

  4. Tina,

    Thanks so much! There is definitely a lot to think about here...but that's part of why I like it! I get to think about all the things I find interesting. :) As for the inscriptions...I totally agree with your words. I actually have pictures of a few more I'll post soon. I think they give a small glimpse into the lives of the previous owners. :)